Animal food manufacturing overhaul aired
Sacramento, Calif. — A federal proposal to introduce sweeping controls across the animal feed and pet food industry would not necessarily force dramatic changes in practices but would simply enforce practices most food producers already have in place, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official said Friday.
Speaking at a public meeting in Sacramento — the third and final such gathering around the country to discuss the proposed regulation — Dan McChesney, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, told an audience of roughly 60 people that the greatest change would be the need for documentation of practices.
“If you think it might need a record, it needs a record,” he said.
Still, the implications of the proposed regulation on the production, storage and distribution of animal food in the United States are groundbreaking. Until now, regulation of pet and livestock food quality largely has consisted of reactions to specific problems such as the 2007 melamine disaster and periodic instances of contamination with fungi or bacteria such as Salmonella.
The proposal on animal food controls is a component of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the first overhaul of the food safety system in the United States since 1938. Signed into law in early 2011, FSMA is directed at preventing food-safety problems before they occur.
Under the rule, animal food processors would be required to identify potential hazards in their operations and implement preventive controls. For example, processing plants would need to identify and establish cooking temperatures that would reduce or eliminate the risk of bacterial or fungal contamination of feed.
Importers of pet or livestock feeds or feed ingredients would be held responsible for identifying foreign manufacturer quality control processes and verifying that these processes meet U.S. standards, “creating a level playing field between imported and domestic food,” said Roberta Wagner, deputy director of regulatory affairs in the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
The FDA is accepting comments on the proposed regulation until February 26. However, the American Feed Industry Association and several other groups have requested an extension of this deadline to March 31 in order to have more time to review the proposed changes, which are laid out in a document of more than 100 pages.
Adoption of a final rule is scheduled for June 30, 2015; the regulation would take effect 30 days after that. According to Wagner, the agency aims to provide flexible standards that recognize the diversity of the industry. “We can’t have a one-size-fits-all legislation here,” she said.
While the FSMA covers both human and animal food, there are different sets of proposed rules governing animal and human food production. According to McChesney, under the new law, foodsafety rules can’t be “wildly different between human and animal feeds.” He described the two sets of rules as “very similar with some exceptions.”
Differences in risks to those who eat the food drive the differences. For instance, allergen labeling is not required for pet or livestock foods. While some animals may be allergic to food ingredients, their reactions tend to be milder than in humans. In dogs and cats, food allergies usually manifest as skin irritations. By contrast, people with food allergies might have potentially fatal reactions.
On the other hand, nutrient imbalance is a potential issue for animals that is not so much of a concern for people — at least not in developed countries such as the United States, where varied diets are the norm.
While the FDA “is not trying to be an animal nutritionist,” McChesney said, the new rules would require quality-control measures for ensuring a consistent quantity of specific nutrients. He explained: “If a feed says it includes ingredient X, then it needs to include X in (the stated) amount. Animals eat the same feed every day. Individual diets for animals become much more important than for humans because (animals) don’t have that ability to choose.”
While the tone of the meeting was largely cooperative and respectful, not everyone was thrilled with the proposed changes.
Mollie Morrissette of the Association for Truth in Pet Food, an advocacy group for pets and consumers, expressed worry that the differing standards for animal and human foods would lead to lax standards in animal feed regulation. On the flip side, several representatives from companies in the animal feed industry expressed concern that the two standards were not different enough.
Overall, however, Leah Wilkinson of the American Feed Industry Association summarized what seemed to be a prevailing sense of cautious optimism regarding the move to regulate animal food. “On first blush, this is a very, very well constructed set of rules,” she said. “The devil will be in the details.”
The FDA’s Wagner emphasized that the rules are not yet final and that the agency wants as much input from the public as possible in order to develop rules that are flexible enough to allow for maximum compliance. After all, she said, “If we can’t get compliance, we won’t achieve our goals.”
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