The annual meeting of the Association of American Feed Control Officials took place in Bellevue, Washington in mid-August. While the meetings are one of the most boring facets of my journey to keep pets healthy, I feel it is imperative that our pets and the people who love them have a voice at the table fighting against the producers of waste products, the ineffective pet food regulators, and the big pet food companies that are constantly poisoning our pets.
Susan Thixton, author of TruthAboutPetFood, has been fighting this battle for consumers for the past decade, with little help. Once again, there were very few crusaders available. With a total meeting attendance of 404, there were less than a dozen individuals standing with Susan. By fighting for transparency in the pet food industry, we subject ourselves to ridicule and hatred. It’s an interesting experience to be surrounded by people laughing, eye-rolling, and whispering every time we speak.
Along with Susan Thixton, Dr. Cathy Alinovi (representing Next Generation Pet Food Manufacturers Association), Roxanne Stone and Billy Heokman (Answers Pet Food), Paul Raybauld (Ketopet Sanctuary), Chelsea Kent (Hero’s Pet Store), Tammy Akerman (consumer), and James Crouch (Bixbi and Buckley), I listened intently to what was being said by regulators and manufacturers. By far, Purina pet food had the largest representation, but industries like Cargill, the Distiller’s Grains group, Potash Corporation, National Renderer’s Association, Royal Canin, Mars, Pet Food Institute (representing large manufacturers), Blue Buffalo, Diamond Pet Food, and Chewy were all present. Representatives from nine countries attended the conference, which is indicative of the worldwide increase in processed pet food manufacturing and sales.
The first meeting involved a discussion of new inspections that are now taking place that are requiring manufacturers to institute “Good Manufacturing Processes”. It is unbelievable that this is just now coming to the surface. One would think that good manufacturing processes would be common sense for companies in the business of making food. Manufacturers were complaining about a lack of standardization and that inspectors seemed to have their own agenda. As with any governmental process, some inspectors are willing to be lenient or look the other way, while some are very stringent.
Complaints were rampant that inspectors requested access to sales volume and revenue and consumer complaint reports. Industry claims these reports are confidential and not a regulatory compliance requirement. Personally, I feel that consumer complaints should be public knowledge, in the spirit of transparency. Companies should also release replies and handling of consumer complaints, which would allow consumers to decide for themselves whether they feel the complaint had merit and/or was handled correctly. The FDA also maintains a customer complaint database which is available to inspectors. Consumers will sometimes complain directly to the FDA and others will go to the manufacturer, which was the justification for requiring both lists.
Inspectors seem to vary with attention to pest control and contamination requirements as well, resulting in complaints from manufacturers regarding cost of implementation. Pest control in a facility filled with grain seems like an acceptable requirement, from my perspective.
Questions were raised by foreign representatives regarding inspections. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have food safety systems equivalent to the United States in the human food industry, but no equivalent exists in the pet food industry that is accepted by the FDA. This will become a bigger issue as these new companies enter into global pet food distribution.
FDA is also calling for all pet food manufacturers to institute a written Food Safety Plan, along with a written Food Recall Plan. It would seem to me this should have been instituted a long time ago, since recalls have been occurring at ever-increasing rates in the past decade.