Chairman Kohl, Senator Bennett, Members of the Subcomittee,
I speak today not as a previous pet food company employee, but
as a veterinarian with deep concern for the health of my own pets
and my many patients. Notwithstanding the pet food industry’s
insistence that it is already stringently and adequately regulated,
history tells us otherwise. In the past 16 months alone, there
have been no fewer than three national level pet food recalls,
including the most recent Menu Foods recall. Although the Federal
Food Drug and Cosmetic Act requires that pet foods not be “adulterated,”
the definition of which includes not containing any poisonous
or deleterious substance, it is clear that breaches of this requirement
are occurring at an alarming rate. The present pet food safety
crisis is not an unfortunate aberration, but part of mounting
evidence of a systematic breakdown in the commercial pet food
safety assurances demanded by the pet owning public.
Pet foods carry both an implicit and explicit guarantee of safety
in the label statement that they carry conferred by the American
Association of Feed Control Officials. It is important
to note that the government guarantees that are ubiquitous on
pet food labels today cannot be found on any human food.
No human food, whether it is fresh produce, meats, or commercially
processed and packaged human consumables is allowed to bear such
sweeping, broad guarantees of wholesomeness and nutritional adequacy.
Unfortunately, these guarantees are not based on routine testing
of individual ingredients by either the companies under whose
brands those foods will be marketed, or by the co-packers who
oftentimes produce the foods for those companies at distant plants.
There are no government requirements for certification or inspection
of suppliers of these ingredients.
Similarly, the nutritional adequacy guarantee explicit in this
claim is not based on long-term feeding of guaranteed foods. The
most rigorous testing protocol for a lifetime adequacy claim is
based upon the feeding of a representative food, not each food,
to a very small number of animals for a short period of time,
only several months. As long as no disastrous effects of the representative
food are seen in these few test subjects, over a very short period
of time, the representative food will gain the right to carry
this long-term adequacy claim, as will all related, but untested
Although the Act requires that meaningful inspections of production
facilities must occur, the rapidly increasing size this industry
has prevented this inspection process from keeping up with that
growth. It is doubtful that that governmental inspection of plants
can solve the problem of adulterated ingredients because of the
sheer volume, variety and sources of those ingredients. It is
even more doubtful that increased facility inspections can prevent
the marketing of foods with misleading claims that they are safe
and nutritionally adequate for the lifetime feeding of pets, since
such authentication must be proven in long-term clinical studies.
I believe the letter and the spirit of the Federal Food Drug
and Cosmetic Act already provide the framework for meaningful
regulation without new laws and without a significant increase
in the size of administrative government. What we need now is
adherence to the existing regulations and the simple clear meaning
of those regulations. The fundamental flaw in the present system
that has allowed adulterated ingredients repeatedly to enter the
pet food supply chain is the unreasonably easy access by essentially
all commercial pet food manufacturers to scientifically unsubstantiated
AAFCO label guarantees of safety and adequacy. This flaw is also
responsible for the proliferation of “AAFCO statement labeled”
foods that are far from adequate for long-term feeding of pets,
as an exclusive diet. Pet owners and veterinarians have come to
have blind faith in the safety and adequacy of foods bearing this
statement, with no knowledge that the testing required to earn
this statement is woefully inadequate and could never be used
to justify such statements on any human food.
We do not need new regulations and a massive increase in any
present federal administrative organization to improve this very
troubling situation. In fact, the FFDCA already adequately specifies
the quality of pet foods and their ingredients, and disallows
unsubstantiated label claims on pet foods. What we need now is
a faithful interpretation and application of the substance and
intent of that Act. Over the past several decades, that substance
and intent has been neglected, ignored and misconstrued by a rapidly
growing industry that has become essentially self regulating.
To begin meaningful reform of pet food regulation, I propose
that AAFCO and FDA adopt a presumption that all safety and nutritional
adequacy claims for pet food are disallowed. Pet foods could be
marketed without claims, as is the case with human foods, with
pet food purchaser and veterinarians aware that the product carries
no label claims for safety or nutritional adequacy.
Thereafter, the pet food industry and FDA/AAFCO might well work
out a system to allow honestly informative label statements that
adequately notify pet owners and veterinarians of the actual safety
testing and adequacy testing to which each labeled food is subject.
No implicit or explicit safety claims could be made without rigorous
ingredient testing by the manufacturer and supplier certification.
No long-term nutritional adequacy claims could be made without
long-term, well-controlled clinical studies proving that adequacy,
to genuine scientific standards.
In such an environment, prominent manufacturers would undoubtedly
rise to the occasion and test their ingredients and their finished
foods in order to gain the competitive advantage that honest label
claims would provide. The pet food purchaser would have a much
better informed choice of pet food quality, as indicated by truthful
labels. Veterinarians would have far more meaningful guidance
about what foods to recommend to their clients.
There can be no doubt that the present system of pet food regulation
is in need of meaningful reform. I have no doubt that such reform
can be achieved, as a first step, by a “truth in pet food
labeling” initiative that would stimulate America’s
best pet food makers to provide the quality that pet owners desire