Lawmakers introduce federal pet food labeling bill Sarah Gonzalez February 23, 2024

Lawmakers introduce federal pet food labeling bill

House lawmakers on Feb. 15 introduced a bill supported by the Pet Food Institute that would provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with exclusive regulatory authority over the marketing and labeling of dog and cat food products.

The Pet Food Uniform Regulatory Reform Act of 2024 (H.R.7380), sponsored by Reps. Jake LaTurner, R-Kan.; Henry Cuellar, D-Texas; Sharice Davids, D-Kan.; Josh Harder, D-Calif.; and Steve Womack, R-Ark., would provide for centralized federal regulatory oversight by the FDA.
In a press release supporting the legislation, PFI said it would “eliminate inconsistent state interpretations and decisions impacting ingredient and pet food label approvals.”

The bill would preempt any state from establishing, maintaining, implementing, or enforcing any authority or requirement related to marketing or labeling of dog and cat food products. Under the new legislation, State Departments of Agriculture and other state officials would still engage in quality inspections and product registrations, PFI said, but label and ingredient approvals would be streamlined under the FDA.

Importantly, the bill text introduced this month does not require that pet food ingredients gain approval exclusively through the FDA animal food additive petition process. They would still have access to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feed ingredient process.

The Pet Food Institute publicly expressed its concerns with the current regulatory process overseen by state governments during the Petfood Forum 2023 in May. PFI President and CEO Dana Brooks said the current system provides a “patchwork” of state regulations resulting in interstate commerce disruptions. AAFCO, which consists of both FDA representatives and state feed regulatory officials currently involved in administering pet food regulations, then issued a response saying that a federal-led system would “significantly decrease the number of qualified inspectors in the marketplace” and reduce the regulatory oversight of pet food.

AAFCO acts as an intermediary between state, federal and international feed regulators to create ingredient definitions, label standards and laboratory standards. AAFCO’s annual Official Publication creates a listing generally recognized by states and other countries for ingredient definitions allowed on commercial feed labels. However, AAFCO’s definitions and standards are not legally binding, and individual states need to codify the AAFCO standards within their own state to make them a legal requirement.

Meanwhile, heads of state departments of agriculture unanimously voted to support AAFCO’s revised Model Regulations for Pet Food and Specialty Pet Food during a Feb. 7 meeting at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Winter Policy Conference.

The revised regulations were approved by AAFCO in July 2023, and set new suggested labeling guidelines around nutrition information, ingredient statements, and storage and handling instructions to ensure consistency and transparency on pet food labels. AAFCO also recommended a six-year enforcement discretion period to allow state regulatory programs time to incorporate the guidelines into their state laws and pet food manufacturers to make the necessary label and packaging updates to their products.