There are no global universal standards for the manufacturing of pet food worldwide. In fact, some countries have such lax “regulations,” their pet foods and source ingredients have been “blacklisted,” either by governing bodies or simply by pet owners community.
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For example, China's pet food industry is well-known to manufacture products that turned out to be dangerous to our dogs on several occasions. But what's the actual difference in how dog foods and cat foods are manufactured in the United States when compared to the way this process is regulated in Europe, Canada or said China?
We've gone through every possible document available on the pet food manufacturing regulations and standards to see who cares about the safety and quality of dog foods and cat foods the most. Here's how they rank:
- Europe (strict)
- USA (average)
- Canada (loose)
- China (very loose)
This may not be a surprise to most of you to see China at the bottom. But what we did find surprising is how closely Canada's pet food manufacturing practices resemble the looseness of those in China rather than the USA. Here's everything you must know.
USA vs Europe vs Canada vs China
What are Manufacturing Standards and Regulations?
On the very surface of it, pet food manufacturing standards and regulations are designed to ensure that companies manufacture dog food that is safe for consumption. Further into this, some entities will also attempt to ensure that all dog foods meet the nutritional requirements for canines.
But what are the who, how, and what of pet food manufacturing, really? Who regulates the manufacturing process? Is it government regulated, self-regulated, or not regulated at all? How is the manufacturing process regulated? And what labeling standards exist?
USA's Pet Food Manufacturing Regulations
In the United States, dog food manufacturing is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its subsidiary Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) in the same way that animal feed is regulated.
The FDA is responsible for regulating the manufacturing of pet foods as well as determining general labeling requirements for food packaging.
Some states also regulate the labeling of pet foods at a state level using standards proposed by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), as a reference point.
The AAFCO state officials outline specific labeling aspects of pet foods, but they have no authority in regulating pet food production. They work with the FDA and State Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish nutritional requirements that pet food recipes must abide by.
In the United States, pet foods do not have to be pre-approved before they go to market. The ingredients used in pet foods, however, are regulated by the FDA and must be safe for consumption and have a function as an ingredient.
Staple ingredients used in American dog food are generally considered to be safe and don’t require pre-approval before use. That said, some additives (such as vitamins and minerals) must be pre-approved before use. Additionally, artificial or natural flavorings, colors, preservatives and processing aids must all have approval and be recognized as safe by the FDA before they can be used.
The FDA governs pet food manufacturing based on the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) which states that all animal foods must be safe to consume, produced in sanitary conditions, have no harmful content, and be labeled truthfully. It's also necessary for wet foods to be processed in accordance with the low-acid canned food regulations (LACF) which keeps the food free of organisms.
Enforcement of regulations is done through random facility inspections and investigating consumer or veterinary complaints in regards to manufacturers or products.
On the state level, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requires manufacturers to register their products sold in the state with them. They may annually inspect pet food labels, they may perform random food quality tests, they may also investigate complaints and manufacturing facilities.
The FDA is responsible for ensuring that pet foods are properly identified on their packaging, have a net quantity statement, have the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor, and have ingredients listed from heaviest total weight to lightest.
Additionally, states may outline their own labeling requirements based on the recommendations of the AAFCO. These regulations govern the product name, the guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements.
Canada's Pet Food Manufacturing Regulations
There are no specific organizations in Canada governing pet food production the same way that FDA does in the US. Importing of pet foods into Canada, however, is regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Generally, the production of pet food in Canada is “regulated” by an agreement between pet food manufacturers and the Canadian government. That said, while some regulations are in place, they are not enforced.
The Canadian government is responsible for outlining the regulations that do exist even if they don’t enforce them.
The Consumer Packing and Labelling Act and the Competition Act established by Industry Canada regulate advertising and labeling of pet food products.
Additionally, there's a voluntary organization and membership group of pet food manufacturers called Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC) that promotes similar labeling and nutritional requirements ideas to those of AAFCO, but they do not have any power over manufacturers.
So long as a pet food is manufactured and sold in Canada, there is no inspection or verification necessary. If a food is made in Canada but exported outside of the country, manufacturers of the food must give documentation to regulatory authorities. This documentation must attest that the food is complete and balanced, tell which ingredients are included in the food, and confirm that everything is legal.
This paperwork is based, for the most part, on honesty and so long as all the necessary documents are provided, the food is approved for export. Additionally, if manufacturers falsify information on their paperwork, there is likely no penalty (that we've seen).
This is not to say that pet food manufacturing regulations don’t exist in Canada, rather that they are seldom enforced. The regulations that do exist simply state that specified substances that are classified as “at risk” may not be used in pet foods.
Canada's Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act establishes that all pet food labels must provide which species a food is intended for, the net weight of the product in metric units, and the manufacturer or importer’s address and contact information.
It is also recommended that foods be labeled with a list of ingredients by percentage of weight, feeding instructions, the guaranteed analysis, and the nutritional adequacy statement. Generally, these rules are not seriously enforced by anyone.
Europe's Pet Food Manufacturing Regulations
Note: For the purpose of this article, when mentioning Europe we are referencing the European Union (EU) member countries. 99% of the countries within the EU share regulatory requirements for the manufacturing, marketing, and import of pet foods.
There is no specific European legislation to govern the manufacturing of pet foods. However, pet foods are regulated under the same criteria as animal feed.
The member states of the EU have three regulatory boards that are responsible for issuing regulations and directives that govern the production of animal feed. These three boards include The Council of the European Union (The Council), The European Parliament (EP) and The European Commission (EC). All regulations are published in The Official Journal of the European Union.
Pet food manufacturers trade associations establish codes of conduct within themselves to govern manufacturing processes. Veterinary organizations are responsible for approving plants that utilize certain animal origin products during manufacturing.
EU representatives must also give a declaration of compliance for plants that utilize specific additives in their foods. National authorities are responsible for enforcing regulations.
The labeling and marketing of pet foods are regulated by EU regulations and the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF).
Pet food manufacturing in the EU is regulated based on three categories of product – materials of animal origin, materials of non-animal origin, and additives. Manufacturers of pet foods must be registered or approved by the specific authorities in their nation according to what they manufacture.
If a manufacturer utilizes animal origin ingredients that are fit for human consumption and not something typically eaten by humans or excess product, that facility must be approved by veterinary authorities. If a facility gets veterinary approval, they receive a veterinary approval number.
Secondly, any facility producing pet food must be inspected and registered locally by authorities for compliance with governing laws (Regulation 183/2005). These laws govern the hygiene of transportation of food, the use and safety of additives, and the necessity for safety protocols.
Lastly, pet food manufacturer trade associations that are affiliated with the European Pet Food Manufacturers’ association have additional guidelines and codes of practice for the manufacturing process. While not all of these regulations have legal footing, some do and can be enforced by local authorities.
Pet food packaging in Europe must be labeled with the registration/approval number of the manufacturing plant. This information is printed in a “legal box” on the product packaging.
Additional labeling claims are governed by the Good Labeling Practice for Pet Food established by the European Pet Food Industry (English PDF here).
China's Pet Food Manufacturing Regulations
There is no single organization or regulatory body governing pet food manufacturing in China. Additionally, while some regulations do exist in terms of pet food manufacturing, they are difficult to pinpoint and buried in the decrees of various agencies. None of these documents are publicly available, either.
The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine are responsible for the regulation of human foods, but they also license and inspect manufacturers, supervise farming, set out ingredient standards, approve food additives, and supervise the import and export of goods.
With no structure or definitive laws to regulate pet food production, the organizations above have no set method to supervise manufacturers of pet foods. Additionally, there is no punishment in place for those who commit wrongdoings.
There are some recommendations for dog treat production on file and the General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine offer standards on the export of animal feed.
Lastly, China's Ministry of Agriculture set out regulations on the safety of feed and it’s additives but the biggest problem arises in the enforcement of these regulations.
When or if the existing sparse regulations are enforced, it is generally done by the provinces where manufacturers are located. This enforcement is experimental and selective, and has little impact on manufacturing processes.
There is are no strict labeling regulations or requirements, and none of the documentation on the rules that apply to labeling pet food products is publicly available.
This all paints a clear picture of which countries take pet food manufacturing more seriously. It is no surprise that China is lacking in pet food manufacturing regulations and enforcement.
What is surprising, though, is the lax regulation of Canadian pet food manufacturing practices, and the failing regulation of United States pet foods. Whether changes to any of these failing systems will be made in the future remains to be seen, but with Europe leading the way and strict EU pet food manufacturing regulations as our model, it is certainly something that seems possible.