FDA proposes new rules to improve pet food safety
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing new regulations aimed at improving food safety - for animals.
The proposal is part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed by Congress in 2010 and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2011.
It comes six years after more than 100 pet foods had to be recalled because of contaminated ingredients from China that sickened and killed pets here.
The Food Safety Modernization Act gave the FDA new authority to hold imported foods to the same standards as domestic foods. And that includes the food we feed our pets and farm animals.
Officials say it's not just about protecting animals; there's a direct link between animal food and public health.
In September, the state health department announced that 21 people contracted salmonella after coming in contact with chicken jerky pet treats made by a New Hampshire company and sold in several stores statewide.
The proposed animal rule would work in concert with two rules proposed in July to help ensure that foods exported to the United States are held to the same FDA safety standards applied to foods produced in this country, according to the agency.
The proposed rule would regulate the manufacturing, processing, packing and storing of animal food. It also would require facilities to perform analyses of potential hazards and implement controls to minimize those risks.
Jennifer Gornnert is director of the Division of Regulatory Services at the state Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food.
Task force review
She said a task force has been reviewing the first two rules proposed under FSMA since they were first released last January. Those two rules concern produce safety and preventive controls.
She said the group has not had a chance to review the new proposal for animal food. But she said it makes sense to adopt safety standards for pet food and animal feed, since contamination can cause illness in humans as well as animals, as evidenced by the recent salmonella outbreak here.
Gornnert said many pet owners may not realize that handling food or treats is a health risk. "If you don't wash your hands after feeding your dog, you could possibly ingest the micro-organisms and you could get sick."
"There is that connection between animal food and human health," she said.
After the Chinese pet food scare in 2007, the FDA reported getting about 18,000 calls from anxious pet owners.
And the FDA continues to report frequent recalls of pet food and animal feed on its website (www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls). There have been 31 voluntary recalls posted so far this year.
Pet store owners
Tony Canzano is the owner of Little Critters pet stores in Exeter and Raymond. He said he welcomes the greater scrutiny of pet foods the FDA is proposing.
"Oh yeah, definitely," he said. "A recall is not good for anybody. It costs us a ton of money, between pulling stuff off the shelves and customers getting angry."
"We hate to see recalls."
His customers have gotten more cautious about what they feed their pets, Canzano said. "Is there anything in it from a foreign country?" is a question he hears far more frequently these days.
He said he's careful to only sell pet foods made from sources in the U.S., or in the case of lamb, New Zealand. "They're not from China," he said. In his stores, he said, "We have a whole section made in America."
Finding pet treats and toys made in America is tougher, however, he said. "Unfortunately, toys are almost impossible to get in this country," he said.