Is His Food Safe?
The Roles of AAFCO and FDA in Pet Food.

What pet food laws protect your dog from harmful ingredients?

Do you know how regulatory officials such as AAFCO and the FDA affect your dog’s food?

Let’s find out.

What is AAFCO?

AAFCO stands for the American Association of Feed Control Officials.
A non-profit organization, AAFCO sets standards for animal and pet feed in America, but they do not enforce pet food laws.

Pet food companies can choose to meet AAFCO standards and get approved as:

  • Complete and Balanced
  • For Adult Maintenance
  • For Growth and Reproduction
  • or For All Life Stages.

Pet food companies can use only laboratory analysis to be AAFCO approved as “complete and balanced,” or they can opt for laboratory analysis and feeding trials.

Visit their website here: http://www.aafco.orunlawfulg


What is the FDA?

The Food and Drug Administration regulates the manufacturing and sale of pet foods.

The FDA checks pet food products for things like:

  • Product Name, based on The 5 rules for Animal Protein
  • Species the product is for (dog food or cat food)
  • Net Quantity (weight) statement on the packaging
  • Name and address of the brand (not the manufacturer)
  • Nutritional Adequacy statements like “complete and balanced” or “for all life stages” “for growth and reproduction” and “for adult maintenance.”
  • Specific Nutrient Claims like “low protein formula” or “for large breeds.”
  • Other Label Claims like “premium” or “natural.”
  • The Ingredient list should be in order of ingredient weights according to AAFCO
  • Guaranteed Analysis, minimum nutrient percentages
  • Feeding Directions
  • Calorie Content information on the product

(Don’t understand the ingredient list or guaranteed analysis? Learn more at Choosing a Dog Food Part 1: Decoding the Label.)

FDA’s job is to enforce food laws like this one…

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act: “Section 342. Adulterated food. A food shall be deemed to be adulterated (a) Poisonous, insanitary, etc., ingredients (5) if it is, in whole or in part, the product of a diseased animal or of an animal that has died otherwise than by slaughter;” 

Any pet food containing contaminated, insanitary and poisonous ingredients is adulterated and therefore illegal. FDA is responsible for checking that all pet feed ingredients comply with this law.

However, FDA does not keep pet food companies in compliance with the law in areas regarding illegal ingredients, marketing strategies, nutrition claims, and good manufacturing practices in pet food plants.


What Regulatory Official Don’t Do To Protect Your Pet: 

With a multi-billion dollar industry to support, FDA often allows pet food companies to find loop-holes in the laws and doesn’t enforce pet food laws on all companies alike.

Many large pet food companies prosper because of the lack of law enforcement from FDA officials, while other companies (usually raw pet food companies) are observed and condemned quickly.

Below are some areas where the FDA fails to enforce the law:

Illegal Ingredients By-Passed
FDA does not prohibit the use of unlawful ingredients such as contaminated meat or animals that have died other than by slaughter in pet food.

4D meats are common ingredients in poor quality pet foods. These include dead, dying, diseased and disabled animals recycled into dog food. To that you can add “drugged” for a fifth ‘D’.

According to the Food and Drug Administration:

“…requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.”

The use of 4D meats in pet food is a direct violation of this law.

Dishonest Marketing Ignored

Regulatory officials do not enforce honesty in marketing strategies. Take for example images on packaging depicting fresh meat and vegetables.

Many products with enticing images of fresh foods contain meat by-product meal and grain mill leftovers that don’t look like the pictures on the package. This is an illegal and dishonest marketing strategy.

That “#1 Ingredient Is Chicken” may be spent laying hens ground whole (including feathers, feet, and intestines), or chicken carcasses leftover from processing chickens for human consumption.

(Find more information and examples about pet food Labeling Laws at

Illegitimate Statements Left Unchecked

Statements on pet food labels and pet food websites should be truthful, but the officials do not enforce this. While FDA is particular (if lax about enforcement), AAFCO does not even encourage honesty.

Claims like “proactive health” and “for maintaining healthy weight” should be used only if they are true about the pet food… unless you listen to AAFCO:

Directly from the pages of The Federal Trace Commission’s website, “Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive”.  To the complete opposite, AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) regulations state “the label of a pet food may include an unqualified claim, directly or indirectly”.A

Some nutrition claims like “natural” and “premium” have no official definitions to be held up to. FDA says that:

“Products labeled as premium or gourmet are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients, nor are they held up to any higher nutritional standards than are any other complete and balanced products.”


Laws that would make pet food safe, sanitary, and legal are not enforced among pet food manufacturers.

AAFCO and FDA do not protect your pet, because they are focused on the significant money industry made from using cheap, illegal ingredients to sell products even through deceptive marketing.


Pet Food Industry Monopoly

Several large companies have a monopoly on the pet food market, partly due to the lax actions of FDA. Some of these companies include Mars Petcare, Smuckers (previously Big Heart), Diamond, Colgate/Palmolive, Proctor & Gamble, and Nestle Purina.

Not all pet food companies take advantage of the loopholes provided by FDA and AAFCO though. There are many dedicated to the safe practices that protect your pet.

They produce human-grade pet foods using wholesome ingredients, including USDA inspected and passed meats, and organic ingredients. These diets may be raw, dehydrated, freeze-dried, air-dried, fresh, and some canned and kibble.

Companies like Honest Kitchen, Caru, and Carna4 may have the hardest time in the pet food industry. They often do not have the money and influence to compete with the marketing success of the big pet food companies.

This video by Susan Thixton of gives a humorous summary of the pet food industry:



Be Your Dog’s Protector

Regulatory officials won’t do it. The pet food companies don’t do it.  Is anyone protecting your pet?

You Must Be Your Dog’s Protector.

It’s up to you to do your research and be educated to know how to feed your dog so that he is safe – and Satisfied!

If you aren’t sure how to choose a safe dog food and want to know more, then you’re in the right place.

Start reading our Choosing a Dog Food series to learn about: reading the ingredient label and guaranteed analysis, choosing the right kind of food for your dog, checking out the manufacturer, and helpful tips for finding a quality dog food!


Your effort will be worth the companionship of a Satisfied Dog!


– Cassy Kay



dogs, dog food, completed and balanced dog food, processing, macronutrient combination, AAFCO


Food and Drug Administration. “Pet Food Labels – General” Oct. 10, 2017. Web. Accessed Jan. 12, 2018.

Sagman, Mike. “AAFCO Dog Nutrient Profiles” Web. Accessed Jan. 12, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. Pet Food Regulations & Ingredient Definitions.pdf.

Thixton, Susan. “Is the Petsumer Getting Burned with Grilled? March 25, 2014. Web. Accessed Jan. 13, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. “It’s All Chicken to Pet Food” Jan. 31, 2014. Web. Accessed Jan. 13, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. “The Largest Beneficiaries of FDA Generosity” April 15, 2016. Web. Accessed Jan. 13, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. Video:

AThixton, Susan. “Truth in Advertising Laws Do Not Apply to Pet Food” Aug. 21, 2009. Web. Accessed Jan. 24, 2018.


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