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Supply Lines: Clear Lines of Communication

Posted: October 22, 2013, 10:30 a.m. EDT


Accountability and transparency are the watchwords for pet food manufacturers regarding safety and ingredients sourcing.

By Keith Loria

In the 20th century, because of the Industrial Revolution and globalization, manufacturers introduced consumers to multitudes of ingredients from throughout the world. In the past few years, however, consumers began focusing on ingredient sourcing due to a number of environmental, employment, quality and safety concerns.

"The pet food recalls of 2007 prompted consumers to look more closely at ingredients, and many pet food companies began sharing more information about their sourcing,” said Jason Taylor, a spokesman for P&G Pet Care in Cincinnati. "Natura, maker of Innova, Evo and California Natural, has a reputation for clearly listing our ingredients and benefits on our packaging.”

Greg Hayden, pet business director for Penford in Centennial, Colo., maker of specialty, naturally based ingredient systems, said recalls due to unsafe ingredients have changed the way many manufacturers do business.

"Consumer-packaged goods companies in the pet segment have required ingredients to be sourced from countries with a proven safety record,” he said. "Penford’s pet segment not only sells specialty starches and fibers into dry and wet pet foods, but we also source an array of ingredients to create injection molded and extruded pet treats. Having numerous formulations for a variety of manufacturers in our injection-molded chew category requires sourcing and qualifying a large number of domestic ingredient suppliers.”

Holly Sher, owner of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Wheeling, Ill., said customers and consumer protection agencies are making greater demands  on the pet food segment. 

"People are questioning the use of steroids, antibiotics in animals and the use of genetically modified ingredients,” she said. "The use of foreign raw materials is being more scrutinized by the FDA and other government agencies, and I believe it’s important for that to continue for the health and welfare of the animals.”

Rules and Laws
Trouble occurred in the past because people perhaps weren’t paying strict enough attention to the supply chain, said Daniel McChesney, Ph.D. director, office of surveillance and compliance, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Veterinary Medicine, in Rockville, Md.

"You have to know the product you are getting and need to look for possible obvious contaminants,” he said. "We’re starting to learn some of the problems, and when we find them we can more easily detect them in others, but the challenge is looking for the unknown.”

The Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in 2010, is the most sweeping food-safety reform since the Great Depression. New authorities under the act include requiring importers to verify that their foreign suppliers have adequate preventive and safety controls in place.

The act also includes third-party certification, for which the FDA will be able to accredit qualified third-party auditors to certify that foreign food facilities are complying with U.S. food safety standards.

Further, it grants the FDA authority to require that high-risk imported foods be accompanied by a credible third-party certification as a condition of admission into the U.S.

There’s been an increased effort made between manufacturers and suppliers in recent years around the idea of supplying safer product, said Pat Tovey, director, technical and regulatory compliance with the Pet Food Institute in Washington, D.C.

Truth in Labeling
When it comes to labels, all manufacturers must comply with proper label regulations.
According to Jason Taylor, a spokesman for P&G Pet Care in Cincinnati, manufacturers should work with nutritionists to develop labels with language and images that follow Association of American Feed Control Officials requirements and are helpful to consumers. The labels should identify product ingredients and explain the benefits of the formulations.
Penford in Centennial, Colo., maker of specialty, naturally based ingredient foods, maintains country of origin certification files for every ingredient that goes into the products that it manufactures.
"Since we begin our product development at the formulation level, Penford’s R&D department has complete control over the ingredients it is using as well as the order in which they are to appear on a finished ingredient label,” said Greg Hayden, pet business director for the company. "Guarantee of analyses are created for each ingredient’s inclusion level that is used to provide a specific health benefit.”
However, don’t overwhelm consumers, who prefer a clean label with minimal type and easily understandable ingredients, said Holly Sher, owner of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company in Wheeling, Ill.—KL

"We’ve seen an increase in communication, and some of the testing requirements are being shared with the suppliers, so it is being done both at the supplier level and manufacturing level,” he said. "There are always incidents. The year 2007 created an impetus for an update in regulations, and new changes are coming that are trying to become more proactive rather than reactive.”

The FDA also has the authority to refuse entry into the U.S. of a food that has refused U.S. inspection, added McChesney.

Made in the USA
For employment, quality, safety and environmental reasons, many U.S. consumers have expressed their preferences for U.S. sourced and manufactured products. There are challenges for manufacturers who try to follow this approach, said P&G Pet Care’s Taylor.

"Some ingredients simply cannot be sourced from within the U.S. because of a lack of a consistent supply chain,” he said. "However, any materials sourced or manufactured internationally should always undergo a rigorous set of supplier qualification and quality checks.”

As some customers become more knowledgeable about the food they feed their pets and are looking for that "Made in the USA” label, many in the industry focus on offering more assurances to pet owners regarding safety and quality, said Laurie Wilson, owner of Teca Tu, A Pawsworthy Emporium & Deli in Santa Fe, N.M.

"Many [owners] have done the research before they come in,” she said. "Many do not want anything made in China. They definitely want to know where everything comes from and where it is made.”

To address pet owners’ need for information, Penford’s products list country of origin and country of manufacture on their  labels to support the company’s Made in USA claims. If the item is substantially transformed in the new country, the country of origin can change; otherwise, the origin remains the same for the finished product, said Michael Wargocki, quality management director.

Building Relationships
Maintaining a strong relationship with knowledgeable ingredient suppliers is vital, said industry sources. Whether you are a manufacturer or a pet retailer, it’s important to keep up with ingredient sourcing and perform due diligence on any company you work with.

"Know your supplier,” Sher of Evanger’s said. "Make sure the supplier will always have the product.” 

Natura works to build a relationship with all its suppliers prior to engaging in any business. Members of its quality assurance and raw material development teams routinely visit suppliers to confirm the quality of ingredients.

"We carefully review and assess sanitation and quality standards,” Taylor said. "We aren’t looking for a cheap ingredient supplier but a long-term partnership based upon quality, value and trust. Only after the rigorous supplier qualification process is complete will we bring a new supplier into the Natura family.”

When looking at sourcing, always work with a supplier that maintains good records and make sure that all things are as they claim, said the Pet Food Institute’s Tovey.

Stay Savvy
Wilson and her staff remain current on the latest ingredient sourcing news through training with food reps, attending seminars and reading articles in trade journals.
 
Natura provides consumers with sourcing information on its website www.seebeyondthebag.com, which allows pet owners to see for themselves the regions where the company’s pet food ingredients are sourced and how its formulas are made.

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