Playing Favorites: The Abuse of Power to Control Pet Food Ingredients

AAFCO meetings are always good for some surprises, but this meeting provided more than usual...

On the first day there was discussion regarding approval of a feed ingredient, dried alfalfa. Apparently, feed ingredient definitions are supplied by different manufacturers trying to get their ingredients approved so they can sell them to feed producers. Unfortunately, the definitions are self-serving, in that the supplier often attempts to have the definition include proprietary processes that would preclude other makers of similar products selling to the animal feed industry. An alfalfa producer objected to approval of the alfalfa feed ingredient based on this premise but was shut down by the board – they gave him ninety seconds to speak, interrupting every fifteen seconds with a time count-down. It was an incredibly rude display of power.

On the second day, we saw the same type of objection when approval of an ingredient, oat fiber, was up for approval. Except this time, the objectors brought many representatives, including legal counsel! They were given all the time they wanted to discuss their objections. The lawyer was very clear on the fact that the Official Publication by AAFCO (where all ingredients are defined) clearly states that definitions will not be written in such a way as to favor one supplier over others. Once again, after listening to objections, the AAFCO board passed the ingredient definition that favored one supplier and eliminated all other suppliers from providing product to the animal feed industry.

 

Additionally, pet feed manufacturers are no longer allowed to use the ingredient name “buffalo”. The American Bison Association representative presented a good explanation between American Bison or North American Buffalo and Water Buffalo. Water Buffalo originate in India or Asia, which might be considered inferior in quality to Bison by some consumers. In reality, they are two different species: Bison bison versus Bubalus bubalis. Therefore, a distinction should be made in pet food ingredient labelling. The only objection came from the Diamond pet food representative. He opined that they were the first pet feed manufacturer to use “buffalo” in pet feed. In fact, it was so popular the bison industry (according to Diamond) was unable to provide the amount of meat products they needed to sell the very popular product. According to him, Diamond was “forced” to go overseas to import water buffalo to fill the void. He said Diamond did not want to see a change in the feed definition, as consumers might then consider their product to be inferior or might assume the water buffalo was being imported from China. My consideration on this: that’s an advertising problem for Diamond. If they truly believe water buffalo is just as good as bison, there is no need to change their pet feed ingredients. However, they will have to change their labels to reflect they are using water buffalo instead of bison. (Water buffalo is cheaper to buy, by the way.)

As an aside, the human food industry is also guilty of labeling meats as “buffalo”, which consumers assume is “bison”, when it is not. But for now, at least in pet feed, the label will have to reflect whether the meat included is actually bison or water buffalo. (Although, the pet feed manufacturers will be given an extended period of time to actually change the labels on their feed products.) Count this one as a win for the bison industry. (Can you say “made in America”?)

The question now lingers – will AAFCO see legal action from these suppliers that were essentially eliminated from the animal feed supply chain? There are millions of dollars at stake here. Has the AAFCO board finally met their match?

However, the most shocking news from the weekend came when state regulators asked for clarification on regulation of prescription pet food diets. They are looking for direction in what is allowed as far as labeling. An AAFCO board representative stated pet food manufacturers are not allowed to make claims of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease on the labels.

EXCUSE ME?

Veterinarians sell these diets and write DRUG PRESCRIPTIONS for these foods every day, informing pet owners these diets will cure, mitigate, treat, and prevent all kinds of disease problems! When I stood up and stated this is a farce, writing prescriptions and selling foods that are poorly regulated, as if they were a drug, the representative from Mars Pet Food had the audacity to sneer, giggle, and make fun of my statement. I say to you, Mars Pet Food, where are the years of drug trials FDA requires of all approved and licensed drugs? There are no drug trials for these pet “feeds” being sold as prescription drugs. Why are consumers paying exorbitant prices for pet feed that does not mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent diseases, as outlined by AAFCO? And why are prescriptions required for pet feeds that do not mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent disease?

I call bulls**t.