AAFCO Defined by Anthony Bennie, Guest Poster

June 19, 2014

Ed. Note:  Anthony Bennie, Co-founder of Clear Conscience Pet Treats, wrote me about a phrase I used in an article on this site.  He wanted to clarify my statement about AAFCO and provide further information for our readers.  Anthony Bennie has over 25 years in the pet food manufacturing business, and I value his vast knowledge of the field.  (I also love the products his company produces!)  Below is Mr. Bennie’s message:

AAFCO is not a national level “regulatory agency” per se and they don’t “approve” or conversely “disapprove” of any product. Rather, it is a group of 50 state agencies, usually structured within each state’s Dept. of Agriculture, that try to enforce compliance with a thick book of rules, guidelines, and definitions that was written decades ago but is (supposedly) updated annually.

If a product is a “pet food” per se and claims to offer COMPLETE nutritional support for the growth or maintenance of a dog, cat, or other species, then it can carry one of these two statements:  That it meets AAFCO Guidelines for Growth, Gestation, and/or Lactation; or that it meets the Guidelines for Maintenance. AAFCO never INSPECTS pet food plants and is not an animal equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping Seal.”

A manufacturer’s guaranteed analysis is essentially a PROMISE between the manufacturer and the “world” as to the MINIMUM percentage of protein and fat, since protein and fat are life supporting nutrients.  It also promises a MAXIMUM percentage of moisture and fiber, since moisture is essentially water with no nutrients and fiber is by definition non-nutritive roughage).

If a state feed official who is part of the AAFCO network, for any reason and at their sole discretion, tests a product on the retail shelves in their state, and it does not test as meeting the guaranteed analysis as stated on the label, that product can be pulled from the shelves.  At the same time, very specific rules apply to how ingredients are named and described on labels and health claims associated with pet food.

For example, you can’t call a product “Beef Dog Food” unless it has over 95% beef, or if you use the term “With Beef” it needs at least 70% beef, and you can’t have a picture of a sirloin steak on your package if you only have beef by product meal in your food and no actual “steak!”  None of this STOPS abuses in labeling and claims from being made, but at least provides a mechanism to address it when discovered.

There are additional nuances and complications, but this in a nutshell is what AAFCO IS and what they do, state by state and nationally.  The entire system is based on voluntary compliance and contrary to what one might think, it has worked very well!  The VAST majority of domestic and most of our international suppliers want to comply with all rules and requirements, after all, they want to succeed in business on a sustainable basis!

So my advice for consumers is not to use the AAFCO compliance statement on a FOOD as a promise of quality or efficacy for a particular pet food. Judge it on the merit of its ingredient list and learn more about the reputation and track record of companies whose products you are using or considering.  But treats and chews that do NOT claim to be a complete daily diet for a pet are not even ALLOWED to make a Statement of Compliance with or Fulfillment of AAFCO Feeding Protocols, since to do so would in and of itself be considered deceptive or misleading when the product is not a complete diet.

Be aware of this and don’t waste your time looking for AAFCO “approval” or even statements referring to AAFCO on treat and chew labels, including the labels of our multi-award-winning Clear Conscience Pet treats or other high quality and ethically sourced pet treat or snack products.  Instead, we all need to be good common sense label readers!  If a pet guardian doesn’t understand or like what they see on a treat or chew label, look for alternatives that meet the “common sense” test.

All of this confusion is why Clear Conscience Pet is about to completely relaunch our product line with the core principle of CleanLabel Pet ™ nutrition.  CleanLabelPet™ is an extension of a human health food labeling trend that started in Europe but is rapidly gaining acceptance worldwide. CleanLabel™ is the new answer to what has become a lack of meaning for the word “natural.”  After all, when virtually everything is being called “All Natural,” it stops being a useful tool for distinguishing the quality differences between products.

CleanLabel can be defined as only using ingredients that are Pure, Pronounceable, and PURPOSEFUL. “To everything, there is a season,” is a philosophy immortalized as a biblical saying and popularized as a sixties classic folk rock tune by The Byrds.  To borrow from that concept, we say that in a CleanLabel Pet™ product, “for everything, there is a REASON;” and that reason is NOT to reduce formulation costs and for no other reason!

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