In many industries, there are active programs and collaborations intended to keep government at bay and let the guidance and direction on better business practices be determined by the industry itself. These industry associations make a point of providing and requiring compliance with better practice standards that all their members participate in willingly. In doing so, the associations generally regulate their industries, and the companies working in those markets seek out the association’s membership to boost their credibility and market reach. Both then work as a defense that the industry can “police itself” instead of having to deal with generic government regulation over that industry.
Understanding the Role of AAFCO
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, is an industry association specifically created and operated to provide industry regulation of pet food. It is the federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) that has statutory administration over pet food products, but the federal agency relies on AAFCO to handle the pet and livestock feed side of the market because most of the FDA’s effort is focused on productions for human consumption. This in turn allows the pet food industry to stock the AAFCO membership with its representatives versus government staff to perform the regulatory functions.
AAFCO by all means is a private organization and not a government office in any capacity. It also has no methods or powers of enforcement, either in civil or criminal matters. However, the reach of AAFCO is broad, and they influence directly the rules and laws most states adopt as minimum standards for pet and livestock food.
Myths and Misunderstandings
AAFCO has long been confused with the power to approve pet foods in general, but this assumption is not true. It’s the FDA that handles and approves how food is branded, especially with labeling that consumers use to judge the value of the food bought. FDA inspectors regularly visit production plants and can pressure manufacturers to issue recalls if serious problems are found. AAFCO, on the other hand, promotes adherence to best practices labeling standards, ingredients, and nutrition elements in livestock food, dog food, and other pet food.
As a result, anyone who wants to sell pet or livestock food with the claim that it is nutritional needs AAFCO approval. This covers the minimum level of consumption for fat, protein, minerals and vitamins. Where the nutrient sources come from, however, is not reviewed or specified by AAFCO. As a result, protein can come from just about anything organic that falls in the category of “fauna” biologically. AAFCO also doesn’t get engaged with how edible or available the food sources are either. For example, if one expected AAFCO to focus on sustainable food production practices, that wouldn’t happen.
Labeling Influence is a Big AAFCO Territory
AAFCO is instrumental in requiring industry members to follow protocols on pet food ingredients by specifying the ingredient definition all members have to follow. The listing is specifically designed for the manufacturing side, so it can be fairly confusing to follow for a retail consumer. In the case of protein dog food, for example, protein can be broken down into meat, fat meal, animal by-product and bone meal. Each of these subtitles can include an assortment of animal product ranging from animal beaks to blood and ligaments.
Alternatively, common ingredients like corn would instead be found under listings of corn meal, corn syrup, corn gluten, corn germ meal and so on. This approach has the effect of making 30% corn a variety of categories in single-digit numbers while the chicken ingredient in the same food may be left at 20%, giving the appearance that chicken protein is the largest ingredient in the given pet food.
AAFCO’s Testing and Trials Impact
AAFCO also plays a heavy role in developing industry protocols to follow with feeding trials. The association spells out how many animals must be used, how long the test should last for, how much food should be applied in testing phases, and how the data is to be collected. AAFCO also controls the definitions of exemptions and exceptions that can be applied in a test and how they should be followed by a manufacturer. However, testing is uncommon because it has a significant cost AAFCO has to take on. Generally, when manufacturers certify they follow AAFCO’s nutrition profiles or the product is similar to an already AAFCO-approved product, the manufacturer can get its own approval from the association.
AAFCO is not a government agency, but it is a classic industry association designed to help the pet and livestock food industry police itself with best practices.