Petfoodology

the scientific study of pet nutrition by veterinary nutrition specialists and experts.

Did You Know? AAFCO Doesn’t Approve Pet Foods

Did You Know? AAFCO Doesn’t Approve Pet Foods
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Despite what you may read, there is no such thing as “AAFCO-approved” or “AAFCO-certified” pet foods!  The Association of American Feed Control Officials – better known as AAFCO – is an important association of local, state, and federal officials.  AAFCO creates model language for definitions, guidance, and best-practices related to the regulation of pet foods, but it doesn’t “regulate, test, approve or certify pet food.” (AAFCO Talks Pet Food).  Each individual state has its own feed laws, regulations, and policies and, while most states base them on AAFCO’s Model Bill and Model Regulations, it is the local, state, and federal authorities that actually regulate pet food.

I was recently reminded of this common misconception about “AAFCO-approved” pet foods when a veterinarian asked whether a certain new cat food was a good one to recommend.  I have a standard process to answer that question for any manufacturer I’m not familiar with (which isn’t uncommon since there are more than 200 different manufacturers in the United States, with many new ones popping up every year).  Rather than making the common mistakes, such as focusing on the ingredient list or ratings websites, my first step is to ask the important and more informative questions we’ve discussed before to ensure the manufacturer has the necessary nutritional expertise and quality control.

When I looked at the cat food manufacturer’s website to try to answer these questions, one of the things that caught my eye was a statement that all their foods were “AAFCO-approved”.  This is not new – I’ve seen many other pet foods make this claim and have even heard veterinarians recommend buying a pet food that is “AAFCO-certified.” Hopefully, after reading this post, Petfoodology readers will know that there is no such thing!  Perpetuation of this myth by a pet food manufacturer is a red flag and suggests that they probably don’t have a clear understanding of how pet food is regulated.

Since there is not a national or even state agency that approves pet foods or regularly tests every manufacturer’s products, we emphasize the criteria promoted by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association which highlight the importance of nutritional expertise and rigorous quality control to ensure you’re feeding a high quality food to your pet, rather than just one with good marketing.  Pet food labels currently provide very little useful information and I find that most pet owners are misreading the information that is on the label.  Asking the right questions can help you make a more informed decision about your pet’s food.

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Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN

Dr. Freeman is a veterinary nutritionist and a professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. She is on the cutting-edge of science, with hundreds of articles in prestigious journals, speaking engagements at national and international conferences, and awards for her scientific achievements. However, she also is passionate about providing objective and accurate information on pet nutrition to veterinarians, pet owners, and other animal enthusiasts.

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