If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ve heard me refer to AAFCO on multiple occasions. I thought it might be a good idea to talk a bit about what this organization does and who is involved.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state, and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds (including dog and cat foods) and animal drug remedies. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food and feed ingredients, as well as sets standards for nutritional adequacy.
Did you catch the word at the end of the last paragraph? "Adequacy." It is important to remember that AAFCO regulations deal with the maximum and/or minimum levels of only the nutrients that AAFCO deems essential to a pet’s health.
For example, AAFCO requires that an adult dog food must contain at least 18 percent protein if the manufacturer is going to call it complete and balanced — or words to that effect. If you find an AAFCO statement on a dog food label (e.g., "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand A adult dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dog."), you can be confident that it contains at least 18 percent protein. But this does not mean that 18 percent protein is an ideal amount for dogs; in fact, levels closer to 25 percent are oftentimes better. Anything less than 18 percent could actually make a dog sick, and AAFCO ensures that this minimum standard is met in foods that have been given its stamp of approval.
Also, keep in mind that AAFCO doesn’t concern itself with the concentration of every aspect of canine nutrition. The levels of some very important nutrients, such as omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, are completely left to the discretion of the manufacturer.
As a private organization AAFCO has no regulatory authority, but does work to protect consumers, safeguard the health of animals and people, and ensure that pet food manufacturers compete for your business on a level playing field. While the standards they develop are not laws, some states in America have adopted these regulations into law in order to further protect pets and consumers.
As a pet owner, you need to be familiar with what AAFCO does and does not do so that you can make informed choices when picking out a dog food. Purchasing only AAFCO-approved diets is certainly a good place to start, but the highest quality foods go above and beyond providing "adequate" nutrition. Ultimately, optimum nutrition is what we’re all really looking for.
Dr. Jennifer Coates