FDA & AAFCO - Pet Food Regulations & Guidelines


Who Regulates Pet Food?

The Federal Drug and Food Administration (FDA) is in charge of regulating pet food. According to the FDA, pet food is subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) which requires that products be “safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.”

One of the many responsibilities of the FDA is to regulate the use of food additives in pet food. For example, the FDA enforces limitations on the use of artificial food dyes and certain preservatives which can be dangerous in large quantities.

Although the FDA also regulates pet food labels, individual states often enforce stricter guidelines typically adopted from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AACFO).

What is AAFCO?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an organization which sets standards for animal feeds and pet food. AAFCO itself is not associated with the U.S. government, rather AAFCO is a non-profit organization.

AAFCO provides an annual report which states the organizations recommended nutritional profiles for “adult maintenance” and “growth and maintenance”. To label any pet food product as “Complete & Balanced,” manufactures must prove that their product satisfies an AAFCO nutritional profile.

There are two methods used to substantiate that a product meets one of the AAFCO nutritional profiles.

  1. Laboratory analysis
  2. Laboratory analysis and feeding trials

The vast majority of pet food products choose to satisfy AAFCO requirements using laboratory analysis instead of feeding trails. Many manufactures and experts believe feeding trials are unnecessary and the guidelines used to conduct the trials are inadequate.

How do I know if a product meets AAFCO requirements?

Manufactures will provide a nutritional adequacy statement on the product's packaging which states which nutritional panel was satisfied and the method of validation. Below are two examples of nutritional adequacy statements,

“[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance of adult cats.”
“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.”

The nutritional adequacy statement will clearly state the appropriate life stage for the product and the method of validation. If the statement does not clearly state that feeding trials were conducted, then laboratory analysis was exclusively used to satisfy the AAFCO requirements.