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written by: Laura veterinary assistant,

Pet owners are concerned about what they are purchasing and labels serve to inform. It helps when making a purchase decision to be armed with information that is presented uniformly. If only AAFCO regulated the clothing industry, shopping for jeans would be a snap!

When it comes to those minor ingredients on the label, it becomes a bit harder to figure out ingredient names; since regulations require the use of correct, standardized ingredient names, at least a person can make an informed comparison from product to product.

Required Label Items -All claims are required to be supported by sound scientific or empirical evidence. Claims for specific nutrients or product abilities may trigger interest from feed control officials or even the FDA. Mislabeling and misleading information can result in fines, product being pulled from shelves and even jail time.

There are people and groups that feel AAFCO should be more vigilant and more restrictive of the ingredients allowed in our beloved pet’s foods. While we agree with this in theory, remember AAFCO has an obligation to the feed industry as well. If you wish to spend mega bucks on your food, there are companies that provide that niche. We believe that AFFCO does well, by updating their requirements yearly, as change occurs and as science benefits us with new knowledge.

AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company’s responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard.

Without AAFCO and one of the following three nutritional adequacy statements you have no idea if you can compare apples to apples. It is not foolproof and it is not without the need for some improvement, but it is much better than nothing.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement:
1. “(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for (growth, maintenance etc. whichever life stage the food is appropriate for)
This first method uses laboratory analysis of a sample to verify the food meets AAFCO nutritional standards.

2. “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (again whichever life stage is appropriate)”
The second method proves nutritional adequacy by conducting actual feeding trials with actual dogs or cats depending on who the food is intended for. Products substantiated by AAFCO Feeding Protocols are NOT mandated to meet minimum and maximum values in the Profiles.

3. “This product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only”
Any product that cannot meet either the AAFCO adult maintenance or growth and reproduction standards must state the above… unless it is specifically designated as a treat.

The following is additional information you will find on your label. Thanks to AAFCO, these are in a similar place on the bag and stated in ways that make it easier for us to compare one company’s product to another.

Brand and Product Name: Rules address the use of ingredient names in the product name. How ingredients may be included in the product name depends on the percentage of that ingredient in the product, and the use of certain descriptors. For example, there are different rules for “Beef Dog Food”, “Beef Recipe Dog Food”, “Dog Food with Beef” and “Beef Flavor Dog Food”. We’ll get to that.

Name of Species for which the food is intended: This must be conspicuously designated in words on the principal display panel, but may be included in the product name, such as “Beef Dog Food” or “Salmon Treats for Cats”. A healthy diet for a dog is not necessarily a healthy diet for a cat.

Quantity Statement: This is the net weight or net volume, and it must be expressed in the correct units and placed on the lower third of the principal display panel. For net weight or volume, both the pound/ounce and metric units must be used. When bags appear to be the same size, knowing the amount inside by weight can certainly help us determine price per pound.

Guaranteed Analysis: This lists the percentage of each of the nutrients in the food. The minimum percent of crude protein and crude fat, and the maximum percent of crude fiber and moisture are always required. Note that “crude” refers to the analysis method, rather than the quality of the nutrient. Guarantees for other nutrients may be required to support claims made in labeling (such as “High in calcium and vitamin A”), and companies may include voluntary guarantees for other nutrients. The guarantees must be given in a particular order, in specified units and as a minimum or maximum, depending on the nutrient.

Ingredient Statement: Ingredients must be listed, by weight prior to processing. The ingredient that makes up the highest percentage of the total weight as it goes into the product is listed first. The ingredients used must be GRAS (“Generally Recognized As Safe), approved food additives, or otherwise sanctioned for use in animal feeds (as defined by AAFCO).  Ingredients must be declared by the correct AAFCO-defined name, where one exists, or the “common or usual” name. HINT: weigh a ½ pound of raw chicken and an equal amount of rice or flour, just because chicken is the first ingredient, doesn’t mean there is a lot of it in the food, overall.

Feeding Directions: All pet foods labeled as complete and balanced for any or all life stages must include feeding directions that, at a minimum, state “Feed (amount of product) per (weight) of dog/cat”. Feeding frequency must also be stated. Feeding directions are optional for treats, as long as they are not labeled complete and balanced. HINT: Unless specifically noted feeding directions are for very active dogs, so your couch potato may not actually need that amount of food.

Name and Address of Manufacturer or Distributor: This names the company as guarantor of the product, and gives the company’s location. The street address may be omitted if the named entity is listed in the local telephone directory, but the city, state and zip code must be shown. If someone else makes the product for said company, then that relationship must be shown by using the words “manufactured for:” or “distributed by:” in front of the address. You would need to contact the company to find out the manufacturer or distributor if that is the case. HINT: your product may be manufactured in another country and that IS important information to know.

It is the state feed control official’s responsibility in regulating pet food to ensure that the laws and rules established for the protection of companion animals and their custodians are complied with.

AAFCO does not authorize, certify, test or otherwise approve animal feed. Only the individual states have the authority to approve animal feed to be distributed in their state under the authority of their state feed law. If the AAFCO Model Pet Food Regulations are followed, a pet food will probably meet all the states’ requirements. Ohio has adopted, as their own, the AAFCO Official Publication “model laws” for pet food.

In summary, there is much more that AAFCO does than what is discussed here. Whether or not you agree with all the things that AAFCO produces, it does help to understand the “model laws” presented for the states to use. Living in Ohio and knowing that our state requires compliance with these “laws” since they have adopted them as their own, is also helpful. Choosing a pet food is a personal and sometimes difficult decision. As we present further information on the topic, hopefully we will educate you and potentially raise more questions.

Source: AAFCO Official Publication 2012