Have you ever taken the time to analyze the packaging of your pet’s food or treats? Some say “all-natural” while others read “complete and balanced.”
Serious question: Do you really know what that means?
Most companies design their packaging to entice you, the pet parent, to buy their products. They all highlight their unique health benefits for your cat or dog, but it’s difficult to understand how these “benefits” are defined.
Are these claims entirely factual? Are pet food standards equivalent to human food? Does anyone monitor these claims? It can all be a bit overwhelming.
So, at the end of the day, can you trust the benefits called out on pet food and treat packaging?
Luckily, there is an organization dedicated to making sure companies don’t mislead consumers. It’s called the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
Now, before you run off thinking someone is trying to sell you some kind of insurance, let us explain what AAFCO is and how it can help you and your pet.
What is AAFCO?
In short, AAFCO is a voluntary group of government officials who set model regulations. These ideal standards include the Model Bill and the Model Pet Food Regulations.
In their own words, the three primary goals of AAFCO are:
- Safeguarding the health of animals and humans
- Ensuring consumer protection
- Providing a level playing field of orderly commerce for the animal feed industry
AAFCO is comprised of voluntary individuals working within the US government, “charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.” It is an organization where experienced individuals unite to help keep feeding regulations as consistent as possible across the United States.
AAFCO is not part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, AAFCO does work with these agencies to create a uniform set of guidelines for pet companies to follow. Again, their main goal is to establish a safe marketplace for pets and their owners. Many of AAFCO’s members work in the FDA and come together during their time off to research, organize, and establish pet food standards.
It is the state official’s duty to carefully examine and approve a pet company’s packaging to make sure it’s not misleading. They will evaluate everything from the detailed ingredients list to the packaging marketing points, and website product descriptions.
Every state in the U.S. has separate laws they impose on animal feeding. If a pet company wants to sell in every state, as Redbarn does, they must meet every state’s unique requirements, usually leading companies to follow the strictest state’s rules for packaging. These same regulations also apply to internet sales. That said, most states tend to follow the model regulations set forth by AAFCO. Responsibility lies within the pet food company to check with each state for compliance.
What Does AAFCO Do?
Well, let’s start with what AAFCO does not do.
“AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way.” Further, AAFCO is not an agency that will automatically ‘approve’ a pet company to sell products in all states (and no such agency exists). Only regulatory state officials have the authority to review, approve, or disapprove pet products.
What AAFCO does do, is provide states with model regulations and checklists for proper product labeling, including:
- Natural Claims
- Brand and Product Name
- USDA Certified, Inspected or Approved Claims
- Feeding Directions
- Guaranteed Analysis
If a pet company has an all-natural product and wishes to display “ALL NATURAL” on their label, then, by AAFCO standards every single ingredient must be natural.
In addition, the placement of ‘natural’ on the packaging is of major importance. The word natural cannot be placed in such a way that it misleads or draws a consumer to believe the product is something it’s not. This is where companies must rely on their AAFCO knowledge and relationships to ensure their placement of the word “natural” is within all state guidelines.
Further, “All Natural Dog Food with Added Vitamins and Minerals” cannot be qualified as a natural product unless it is followed by the disclaimer, “with added (synthetic nutrients).” Vitamins and minerals, despite their health benefits, are not considered natural products under AAFCO.
BRAND AND PRODUCT NAME
These rules address the use of mentioning ingredients in the product name. How and if ingredients may be included in the product name depends on the percentage of that ingredient in the product, and the use of certain descriptors.
USDA CERTIFIED/INSPECTED/ APPROVED
These types of claims are not allowed on pet food labels. This misleads the consumer into believing a product is safe and has been examined and acceptable for use by humans.
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 complete and balanced and labeled as snacks or treats.
This lists the percentage of each of the nutrients in the food, similar to the nutrition label on human foods. The minimum percentage of crude protein and crude fat and the maximum percentage 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 label claims, such as “high in calcium and vitamin A”, for example. These guarantees must be given in a particular order, in specified units and as a minimum or maximum, depending on the nutrient.
Why Do Pet Companies, Like Redbarn, Follow AAFCO?
At Redbarn, we embrace AAFCO guidelines because it’s what’s right for our dog and cat pet parents. We make sure to deliver products that are both safe and authentic to pets and their parents.
If you don’t believe me, take it from Redbarn President, Jeff Sutherland, who has been in the pet industry for over 30 years,
“We choose to follow AAFCO because keeping up with current regulations puts us at the forefront of developing safe products and manufacturing practices for the pet and pet parent,” Sutherland says. “As a leader in the pet industry, we believe it’s our duty to set a good example. We work every day to remain a trusted brand of pet food, treats, and chews.”
Redbarn has an exceptional Quality Assurance (QA) team who goes to great lengths to master proper and effective training in order to abide by AAFCO and FDA regulations. We want to make products that don’t just speak to consumer’s desires and trends but help support the health of their pet for years to come. To properly do so, we continually invest both time and money into our quality assurance programs: purchasing new machinery, hiring skilled and educated team members, and utilizing up-to-date and improved processing and testing protocols.
“By choosing to go to AAFCO meetings and following their guidelines, we have made ourselves a better company. Redbarn’s decision to follow these guidelines proves to me we are the right decision for pet parents when it comes to treats and chews for their fur babies,” Redbarn’s QA manager, Jennifer Hood said. “Our dedication to doing the best whenever and wherever possible is directly linked to our choosing to go above and beyond. Following the AAFCO guidelines is just one example of that dedication.”
The Consumer Takeaway for AAFCO
You are not alone in your quest to find safe, quality products for your cats and/or dogs. Organizations like AAFCO do their best to create an easy to follow guide for pet companies, like Redbarn Pet Products, that want to remain transparent and honest with their customers.
You may notice a company claiming their products are “AAFCO certified.” Be aware, as AAFCO does not certify products in any way.
As a pet parent, it’s important to be aware and to look beyond fluffy product descriptions and snappy pet commercials. Take a closer look at the writing of the packaging while keeping AAFCO’s guidelines in mind.
Can this medical claim be substantiated? Am I being led to believe this product does something it does not? Are they misrepresenting AAFCO certification?
Take a moment and ask yourself the hard questions before you commit yourself to a product or brand. Despite the countless lists of ‘the best dog treats’ or ‘best cat foods,’ listed on various websites, always remember you have the power to decide which products are the best fit for your cat or dog.
How do you feel about AAFCO? Do you feel more confident in feeding your pet Redbarn because we follow AAFCO? Leave us a comment below to share your thoughts!