Food for Thought: Pet Diets

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The Pet Food Institute believes accurate and science-based information on pet diets is key to pets living long and healthy lives.

Cats and dogs need over 40 essential nutrients for optimal health. Just as with humans, nutritional deficiencies can have health consequences ranging from skin conditions and hair loss to diabetes and anemia. That is why an appropriate life stage and complete and balanced pet food are so important for dog and cat health, said Dana Brooks, president & CEO of the Pet Food Institute.

PFI views food safety as a non-competitive issue, Brooks said. PFI and its members make the vast majority of all U.S. pet food and treat products. As the voice of U.S. pet food makers for more than 60 years, PFI provides factual information about pet food and treat safety, nutrition, and health to pet lovers, and advocates for a transparent, science-based regulatory environment for its members.


Dana Brooks on Pet Diets

In the following interview, Brooks discusses common misconceptions about pet food and the manufacturing process, PFI’s latest advocacy efforts, and the need for food labels to be modernized.

PFI’s members represent most of the pet food and treat makers. Why is it important for this group to collaborate on common challenges and find joint solutions?

Dana Brooks: People and businesses are stronger when they work together. PFI and our members share a common goal: to help pets enjoy long and healthy lives and to operate in a science-based regulatory environment. When companies work together and speak collectively, the message to regulators and legislators is consistent, clear, and strong. In this way, we can advocate for regulations and legislation at different levels – whether state or federal – enabling the industry to address challenges and achieve real solutions.

How much of what PFI does involves pet owner education, such as its Vet Talks series? Why is this needed?

Dana Brooks: Pet owners need to know there is a place they can go to access expert advice – free of misinformation – to benefit their pets. That is why PFI’s website (petfoodinstitute.org) is focused on consumer education.

A wealth of information is available to pet owners on the internet and social media. Unfortunately, not all of it is accurate or even safe to follow. We are seeing more posts on social media that instill fear in pet owners regarding the food they are feeding their beloved pets. Since part of our mission is to help pets enjoy long and healthy lives, providing accurate and science-based information is important.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about pet food and the manufacturing process?

Dana Brooks: What is important to remember is that no one diet is perfect for every pet and pet owner. That is why it is so important that pet owners work with their veterinarians to choose a pet’s food.

One concerning trend is the increasing vilification of dry pet food, and some influencers and activists suggest pet owners should feel guilty for feeding this type of food. Increasingly, we see social media posts stating that food’s nutritional value is depleted through the cooking process and that pets should only be fed a raw or homemade diet. The truth is that pets need a complete and balanced diet to meet their nutritional needs – whether that is achieved through dry, wet, raw, air- or freeze-dried pet food. It is important that all pet parents feel confident in the feeding choices for their beloved pet.

What are some recent PFI advocacy efforts?

Dana Brooks: This year, PFI is mainly focusing on modernizing the pet food regulatory process. Because of that, PFI supports HR 7380: the Pet Food Uniform Regulatory Reform (PURR) Act. Pet food is currently regulated at the federal and state levels. At the federal level, the FDA ensures safety, in partnership with states who inspect pet food facilities. At the state level, all 50 states can develop their own state feed laws under which they regulate marketing and labeling. States often have differing interpretations of marketing and labeling regulations and guidance. This inconsistency can and does cause regulatory issues during state label reviews. Any state can pull pet food from store shelves – not just for safety issues – but because of the verbiage or even the font used on a label.

For example, a regulator threatened to pull a product because frozen blueberries were called blueberries on the label. Some states have threatened to stop the sale of pet food with labels with headings of vitamins and minerals in bold font. These examples are not safety issues, and they unnecessarily complicate interstate commerce that may adversely impact pet owners.

This is completely different than the regulatory process for human food, which is regulated at the federal level. Given the evolution of pet food as a consumer-packaged good, it makes sense that it should be regulated in a similar way as human food. The PURR Act would achieve this goal.

Of course, sustainability is about more than a responsibility to care for our planet. It is also about caring for people and pets. PFI members directly employ nearly 35,000 people in 35 states, support related suppliers across the nation, and engage in community programs – all helping to support a thriving economic landscape for generations to come. Our members devote immense amounts of time and resources to various charities such as volunteering and providing food to shelters and pet food banks. We do this because we care and it’s the right thing to do.

Why do pet food labels need to be modernized?

Dana Brooks: The goal of the AAFCO-approved Pet Food Label Modernization (PFLM) for modernizing pet food labels is to provide greater clarity and transparency to consumers. Transforming the pet food label so that key information is easy to locate, and the nutrition label more closely resembles a human food label. This puts the tools in consumers’ hands to make more informed choices. For example, if the Nutritional Adequacy Statement is consistently located in one location on pet food, consumers can easily see what species and life stage the food is intended for. These changes make it more likely that the optimal food is fed to our pets.

What are some issues, trends and stories PFI is keeping an eye on heading into 2024 (and industry stakeholders should as well)?

Dana Brooks: There are several issues and trends we are watching. PFI is tracking and engaging on issues impacting ingredient access for pet food makers and packaging and plastics policy. Four states have enacted, and several are considering passing the extended producer laws. The industry certainly needs to stay current on these issues to comply with the implementation of these laws. Obviously, as stated earlier, PFI is concerned with state inconsistencies, and Pet Food Label Modernization (PFLM) falls within that category. Should all states not uniformly adopt PFLM, that would create a very difficult situation for pet food makers and pet owners.

We are also looking at factors that affect the supply chain. The horrific Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, Maryland further complicated a supply chain burdened by continued Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Fortunately, due to the collapse, some East Coast ports are expanding their hours to assist in moving cargo throughout the country. Additionally, some states are trying to advance unworkable climate legislation that would adversely affect the transportation of goods. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a request from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to require freight locomotives operating within the state to achieve zero emissions by 2035. With current battery technology for locomotives not commercially viable in the foreseeable future, this attempt to regulate those emissions is unrealistic.

On a consumer education level, we are concerned by the increasing trend of misinformation on social media that is causing unnecessary fear in consumers. Many social media influencers consistently spread the message that pet owners should only feed pets raw and homemade diets. This increased trend in feeding homemade diets is concerning because research shows that these diets usually lack one or more essential nutrients.

 

PFI’s Sustainability Initiative

A 2020 survey found that 60% of consumers are willing to pay more for a product with sustainable packaging. Another survey found that 78% of consumers say a sustainable lifestyle is important. “It is clear consumers value sustainability, and the industry must pay attention to that,” Brooks said. “PFI members reduce the environmental impact of their operations and protect our existing natural resources, such as energy and water, through continuous innovations and enhancements in pet food production.”

 

Woman shopping for pet food while checking something on her mobile

 

Food Safety

PFI members make food safety their number one priority. Pet owners need to feel secure that Current Good Manufacturing Processes (CGMPs) are being followed and that the food they are putting in their pet’s bowl is safe. PFI encourages conversation on these topics by hosting an annual safety-sharing conference for members. This session provides a platform for members to learn and share best practices with each other.

 

Dana Brooks headshot with Dog

Dana Brooks

President & CEO of the Pet Food Institute

 

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/SeventyFour

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/VLG

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