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Supply Lines: Laws of the Pet Land

Posted: February 18, 2014, 11:30 a.m. EDT


The state of the latest legislative and regulatory challenges faced by pet product manufacturers

By Keith Loria

Much misinformation arising from the media incorrectly perpetuates the notion that pet food is not regulated. In reality, pet food is the most highly regulated food after infant formula. Following is a look at the current challenges facing the pet products industry.

No Taxation Without Representation
Kurt Gallagher, director, communications and export development for the Pet Food Institute (PFI) in Washington, D.C., said that pet food is regulated, and has been for decades, by the states as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although the pet food industry’s legislative concerns are primarily at the state level.

"For many years PFI has opposed proposals to tax pet food to fund activities unrelated to the activities of pet food companies or the feeding of pets,” Gallagher said. "Typically the proposal is to tax pet food in order to fund programs to prevent unwanted reproduction in pets. Over the years, some states proposed taxing other pet products in addition to taxing pet food to raise money for shelters or spay/neuter programs. PFI believes these types of product taxes are unfair and arbitrary because pet food companies and responsible pet owners are not the cause of animals being relinquished to shelters.”

PFI’s position is that a tax shouldn’t be levied arbitrarily. A tax should be levied on a party that has a role in the issue the state seeks to address. For example, states collect tolls for drivers who use a particular bridge, tunnel or road. States don’t tax baby food to fund shelters for women or family planning services. Likewise, states shouldn’t tax pet food to fund spay/neuter programs. PFI has a strong track record opposing these types of proposals, although it is getting more difficult to turn them back.

Pet Sales Problems
Ed Rod, vice president of government affairs and general counsel for the American Pet Products Association (APPA), said the organization has been facing challenges regarding the increasing efforts by animal rights activists to generalize all commercial breeders as puppy mills and the resulting attempt to rectify that problem by simply banning the sale of all dogs in pet stores. 

"We have been trying to work with other industry representatives to find a better solution to put the bad actors out of business and allow responsible breeders to keep on providing healthy puppies,” he said.

"The proliferation of local and state ordinances affecting the sale and ownership of companion animals makes it very difficult for a centralized national organization to respond effectively to proposed rules on a timely local basis.”

The APPA retains McKenna Long & Aldridge, a law firm in Washington, D.C., with a large government affairs practice, to advise and support its legislative initiatives, and also work with other industry partners on issues of mutual interest.

"It would probably be more effective if the pet industry and the numerous organizations that represent different aspects of the industry could work more closely to develop a consistent industry position in response to the challenges presented by numerous animal rights activists,” Rod said.

FSMA Safety Regs for Animal Feed
On Oct. 25, 2013, the FDA unveiled its proposed new safety regulation for animal feed, including pet food ("Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals”). The rule was mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law in January 2011. With the passing of these standards, the FDA is hoping to take a more preventive, rather than reactive, role in food safety. 

"Pet food makers share the FDA’s commitment to pet food quality and safety, and we’re proud of the strong safety record of pet food,” Gallagher said. "We and our member companies have been in close communication with the FDA over the past two years as it developed the proposed regulations. We will continue to work closely with the FDA to help ensure that pet owners can have total confidence in the food and treats they feed their pets.”

Ward Johnson, owner/president of Sojos in Minneapolis, said food safety in the industry is rapidly changing due to a string of recent recalls. On-site inspections and testing of products has also spiked in recent years as the FDA has become more focused on the safety of pet food.

"The requirements for a pet food manufacturing facility are becoming increasingly more and more similar to those of a human food facility. Fortunately we’re ahead of the curve from a food safety standpoint,” Johnson said. "Sojos already focuses on proper sanitation, quality control and food safety, so that as new laws come into effect, we’ll already be compliant.”

For more information, visit www.fda.gov; comments on the proposed rule are due Feb. 26, 2014.

Jerky Treats
A big issue the pet food industry has been facing is the very recent jerky treat recall. Consumption of jerky treats has been alleged to cause illness in more than 3,600 dogs and 10 cats; over the past six years, more than 580 of those pets have died.

"The FDA has taken an active role in investigating the cause of these outbreaks and is urging pet parents and vets to closely watch pets who have come in contact with jerky treats,” said Rebecca Tomala, vice president/account supervisor at Chicago’s Matrix Partners, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in pet product advertising, publicity and promotions. "The FDA is also encouraging pet parents to consult with their veterinarian before feeding chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats to their pet.”

As a marketer of pet food and consumables, Matrix Partners understands the best practice is to stay informed on the latest food safety trends and legislative rulings.

"My goal is to partner with manufacturers and governing organizations that produce and/or ensure a safe and sound product that I would feed to my own pets,” Tomala said. "Frequently monitoring the most current pet food guidelines allows me to accurately facilitate packaging and label designs and revisions according to AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials] regulations before they are presented at the state level.”

Nonedible Products
Although less regulated than pet food, pet product manufacturers do deal with a set of regulatory considerations for each product. According to the APPA, a company must comply with all labeling requirements and considerations, such as placement of required information like weight or volume on labels.

Currently, there are no specific regulatory requirements for pet toys other than general safety requirements for consumer products, which would be overseen by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

However, many of the larger retailers now require safety and durability standards for pet toys that are very similar to requirements for children’s toys.

Challenges Abound
Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education at Bravo! of Manchester, Conn., said that as a national company, one of its challenges is being subject to federal oversight by the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as regulation by AAFCO in each of the respective states in which the products are sold.

"Each state can choose which portions of model regulations created by AAFCO they incorporate into state law,” she said. "AAFCO has no regulatory authority, but they are leading the effort to create a uniform set of rules and regulations that state and local enforcement agencies can adopt. They also have been working with FDA to write federal regulations that we hope will lead to one set of rules for our industry.”

As a company that manufactures a fresh-frozen raw diet product, safety has always been a primary focus for Bravo! It continually refines its process and has several programs in place to step up its efforts on all fronts.

"We are far more diligent in our packaging review to be sure our products are in compliance with the new law,” Schubert said. "We also actively work with both state and federal agencies to seek approval and agreement for/to what we are doing. That is, we have understood their requirements and are in compliance.

We are also doing many things to improve the safety profile of our products such as individually packaging our fresh-frozen raw diet burgers in vacuum-sealed inner packages for greater safety and improved product freshness at the time of use.”

Lucy Postins, founder and CEO of The Honest Kitchen in San Diego, said that from a business standpoint, the biggest thing the company would like to see changed is for all states to apply and work with the same set of rules. In fact, she said, many companies have expressed a desire to see uniform interpretation and enforcement of the regulations across all agencies and jurisdictions for everyone to follow.

"It would be ideal if label approval took place at a federal level to remove the ambiguity that arises when different states have different rules, or interpret rules in different ways,” she said. "We mainly rely on state communications and the AAFCO website to stay informed.”

Schubert also would like to see the verbiage for packaging made more consumer friendly.

"For example, current regulations require we state the calorie content of our product as ME Kcals/kg (metabolized energy—Kcals per kilogram) rather than simply calories per ounce or pound,” she said. "The data is the same, but the regulations require us to state the information in a way that is not likely understood by the end user. This makes it hard for pet owners to feed a calorie-specific diet to an animal with a special need.”

Staying In the Know
According to Sojos’ Johnson, reading industry publications and attending regulatory meetings at trade shows helps to keep his company current on what’s new in the pet industry.

"But to go a step further, following what’s going on in the human side of food safety keeps you ahead of the curve,” he said.

As regulations constantly evolve, it’s imperative for all companies to keep close tabs on the industry by joining industry organizations, attending pet food forums, and continually furthering their education in food safety and manufacturing practices.

"Consumers are very engaged in educating themselves on pet food and ingredients they feed their pet, although confusion at the retail level is still apparent,” said Matrix Partners’ Tomala. "I would like to see veterinarians, governing organizations and retailers working together in a more streamlined manner to provide consumers with an abundance of nonbias information that enables them to confidently make educated decisions on behalf of their pet.”

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