Increased FDA Testing of Pet Foods May Provide More Support for the FSMA Proposed Rule on “Preventive Controls for Animal Food”

By Jolyda O. Swaim

When I was growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, my twin sister and I always savored the sweet feed that we fed to our horses.  We would also occasionally “chew on the oats,” but Sis and I never found our way to eating the dog or cat food.  This was not the case, however, with my son and my nephew—who always tasted the dog and cat food!  At the time, I never thought much of the kids eating the pet food.  Looking back, I realize that we were all very lucky we did not get ill.  While animal food is technically supposed to be free from pathogenic organisms, recent outbreaks prove this is not always the case.

Recently, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) issued a nationwide field assignment to collect samples of domestic pet foods (not including canned pet foods), pet treats and pet nutritional supplements to be analyzed for SalmonellaSee http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/Products/AnimalFoodFeeds/Contaminants/ucm348644.htm

The CVM issued this assignment because of its concern “about animal feeds serving as vehicles for transmitting pathogenic and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”  There have been a number of large outbreaks linked to various pet treats and feeds in the past several years – in the United States as well as Canada.  In 2012, an outbreak of Salmonella infantis was linked to dry dog food produced at a facility in South Carolina with 49 associated illnesses.

In the assignment, the Director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance indicates that Districts are to immediately initiate procedures to remove any pet foods found positive for Salmonella, alert the manufacturer to take corrective action, and recommend the issuance of a Warning Letter.  In addition, investigations of the facility are to occur within 90 days of the confirmation of a positive Salmonella sample.

The above concerns – especially if there are positive product tests and related recalls – provides further support of the need for FDA’s soon-to-be issued proposed rule on Preventive Controls for Animal Food which implements a portion of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).   The proposed rule is expected to closely mirror the proposed rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food published on January 16, 2013.   In fact, my understanding is that the only notable differences will be that the proposed rule for animal food would establish cGMP’s, would not address allergens, and might have different definitions of a “very small business.”

Based on this information, it would be prudent for any manufacturer of pet treats or foods to spend time now reviewing the proposed rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food, and begin putting together their preventive controls plans based on what is in that proposed rule.  While FDA estimates there are almost 4,500 manufacturers of pet foods and treats, it believes that about 4,440 would be considered small (less than 500 employees) or very small.  Knowing where many small FDA-regulated human food manufacturers are in understanding and developing preventive controls plans, I would expect small pet food manufacturers are even further behind.  With FDA now out in the field testing, many may find they will have a much earlier “deadline” on addressing pet food or treat safety.