The Food and Drug Administration is proposing new rules to regulate the safety of pet food and animal feed for the first time.
The regulations call for production guidelines that would minimize risks and prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness. They would require that animal food manufacturers develop a written plan to prevent foodborne illnesses that can kill livestock.
The regulations are designed to keep animal handlers safe from contamination when handling the animals.
The announcement comes as the FDA continues to grapple with a case of potential poisoning linked to jerky treats manufactured in China that is believed to be responsible for nearly 600 pet deaths since 2007. The agency has yet to determine what is causing the deaths.
Michelle Ganci, a Fresno State animal science professor, said food manufacturers already have systems in place to ensure the safety of the animals that eat the food products
“The biggest thing is that there are already a lot of systems put in place,” Ganci said. “People have to understand that we’re taking care of animals. It’s our passion. We use the animals to make a living. If we don’t take care of the animals then it’s like shooting yourself in the foot.”
Daniel McChesney, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, discussed that the organization’s prioritizes responding to safety issues involving animal food in a blog post Friday.
“While regulations have been crafted to address such threats as the brain-wasting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (better known as “mad cow” disease), this regulation moves towards a comprehensive, risk-based regulatory framework to keep all animal foods safe,” he wrote.
The regulations would require that food producers evaluate their plans every couple of years. If the producers realize that their plans need to be corrected to prevent any foodborne illnesses, then the manufacturer would have to make those changes right away.
The proposed rules stem from the sweeping bill known as the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, which placed a greater onus on food producers, both domestic and foreign, to implement safety plans.
“The proposed rule would require makers of animal feed and pet food to be sold in the U.S. to develop a formal plan and put into place procedures to prevent foodborne illness,” the FDA said in a written statement Friday. “The rule would also require them to have plans for correcting any problems that arise.”
The proposal is open to public comment for the next 120 days before taking effect. The FDA said compliance would cost the industry an estimated $130 million.
McChesney said the new rules are needed to prevent recurrences of outbreaks like the 2007 melamine scandal in which the chemical used to make plastic was added to pet food produced in China, sickening and killing thousands of pets across the U.S. Contaminated pet food can also sicken humans.
“You feed the animal contaminated food, you get a sick animal,” Ganci said. “Giving the animal contaminated food will cause reproductive problems and overall poor health. We raise the animals so we want the best source of food for them.
“We have an ethical responsibility to care for the animals,” Ganci said.
Dr. Scott Williamson, a swine and genetics professor in the animal science department, believes many of the reports about animals dying from food contamination are highly exaggerated by the media.
He said deaths caused by contaminated food are rare.
“Documented instances are sensationalized,” Williamson said. “The food has to be safe for animals. If you don’t feed or treat the animals properly, you lose money. Healthy and safe food helps to maximize growth production of the animals.”
Williamson said that farm animals help people, so it makes no sense to mistreat the animals.
Ganci said if the proposed systems are reasonable and doable, then companies will follow.