For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing preventive measures to protect all animal foods from disease-causing bacteria, chemicals and other contaminants.
This includes the food that pet owners give their dogs, cats and other companion animals, and the feed that farmers give their livestock.
Preventive Controls for Food for Animals is the fifth rule that FDA has proposed this year as part of the food-safety framework envisioned by the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act that focuses on preventing foodborne illnesses.
Daniel McChesney, Ph.D., director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), explains that this rule proposes establishing a whole new set of protections for animal foods. Currently, the agency primarily gets involved when there is evidence of contaminated animal food on the market.
“Unlike safeguards already in place to protect human foods, there are currently no regulations governing the safe production of most animal foods. There is no type of hazard analysis. This rule would change all that,” says McChesney.
McChesney notes that human and animal health are intertwined. People can get sick when pet food is contaminated by disease-causing bacteria like Salmonella. When such food is handled by pet owners and placed on kitchen surfaces, the bacteria can spread to foods consumed by their family.
And if an animal has eaten feed contaminated with a chemical like dioxin and then enters the food supply, consumers could likewise absorb the chemical, putting their health at risk.
By helping to prevent the contamination of animal foods, the proposed rule protects pets and people alike, he says.
Requiring a Safety Plan
This proposed rule would create regulations that address the manufacturing, processing, packing and holding of animal food. Good manufacturing practices would be established for buildings, facilities and personnel, and would include cleaning and maintenance, pest control, and the personal hygiene of people who work there.
It would also require facilities to have a food safety plan, perform an analysis of potential hazards, and implement controls to minimize those risks. Those controls would have to be monitored and corrected as needed.
While this rule is similar in many ways to the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule that FDA proposed in January 2013, McChesney explains that it is different in a number of ways because animals face different hazards.
For example, he says, the proposed animal rule doesn’t address allergens—substances that could cause an allergic reaction. That’s because animals don’t get the kind of life-threatening allergic reactions that people do. They might get a skin reaction but not the kind of physical shock that a food allergen could trigger in a person.
On the other hand, contaminants that endanger animals are sometimes tolerated better by people and were not as great a concern in crafting protections for human food. For example, some animals are much more vulnerable to aflatoxin, a toxin caused by mold, and could die after consuming food containing the toxin.
The animal rule is also designed to prevent nutrient imbalances in animal foods. Unlike people, who get their foods from many sources, an animal’s food is meant to be a complete and balanced diet, explains McChesney. If a food doesn’t have enough of a particular nutrient, the animal has no way to make it up. For example, cats need thiamine (also known as Vitamin B1) but their bodies don’t produce it. If they don’t get enough in their food, they can suffer severe neurological problems.
The proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register, with a 120-day public-comment period. The rule is filed in FDA’s official docket at www.regulations.gov and can also be accessed at www.fda.gov/fsma.
Import Rules Add Safeguards
The proposed animal rule would work in concert with two rules proposed in July 2013 to help ensure that foods exported to the United States are held to the same FDA food safety standards applied to foods produced in the United States. Together, the three rules would help ensure the same level of safety for domestic and imported foods for animals.
In one of the most infamous examples of pet food contamination, dogs and cats across the country were sickened and killed in 2007 when melamine, a chemical used to make plastic, was added to pet food ingredients imported from China. McChesney noted that FDA received about 18,000 calls from anxious pet owners at the time.
The requirements proposed in both the animal and import rules are designed to help prevent that from happening again, he says.
Overall, McChesney says that the animal food supply is very safe. However, with the marketplace becoming more global and more diverse, more protections are needed. When you buy food for your animals, those ingredients could come from anywhere in the world, so animal food producers and their suppliers, no matter where they are based, have to be held to the same high standards, he says.
“Whether in the home or on the farm, people take the safety of their animals very seriously, and so do we,” says McChesney.
This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.