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AAFCO’s new guidelines for pet food labeling

March 15, 2024

On January 1, 2024, AAFCO officially implemented its new Pet Food Model Regulations, marking a significant milestone in the industry. These regulations, in development since 2015, had undergone rigorous scrutiny from various stakeholders and involved input from the AAFCO Pet Food Committee, consumer surveys and focus groups, as well as discussions with regulatory agencies, professional associations, and industry trade organizations.

The overarching goal was to bring about a modernization of pet food and specialty pet food labels, emphasizing clearer communication with consumers.

Four major label changes:

1. Pet Nutrition Facts Box

One of the most notable changes is the introduction of the Pet Nutrition Facts Box, which closely resembles the nutrition facts panel found on labels of human food. By conveying essential and easily understandable nutritional information in a standardized format, this box helps consumers make informed choices about their pets’ nutrition. It includes details such as serving size, calorie content, nutrient guarantees, total carbohydrate values, and an AAFCO nutrition adequacy statement.

The Specialty Pet Nutrition Facts Box is specifically tailored for specialty pet food products. While it includes much of the same information as the standard box, it does not require a calorie statement. However, it does have to include a nutritional adequacy statement, giving consumers clarity regarding the suitability of the product for their pets’ specific needs.

A new Pet Nutrition Facts Box will more closely resemble those seen on human food packages.

2. Product Purpose Statement:

Nutritional Adequacy Claims, which attest to the nutritional completeness of a pet food product, must now appear prominently in the lower third of the label’s principal display panel. This placement makes it easier for consumers to identify the intended life stage and purpose of a product, further enabling them to confidently choose the right products for their pets’ needs.

Veterinary diets must designate the species for which they are intended, such as “Veterinary Diet for Cats” or “Veterinary Diet for Dogs.” Treats will also need to be identified by species, as in “Dog Treat” or “Hamster Treat.”

Pet food supplements, which are not complete diets and are only intended to supply specific nutrients, must identify their purpose and species name, as in “Species Food Supplement: Dog.”

3. Ingredient Statement:

The new AAFCO regulations include updates to ingredient statement, to enhance consumer understanding and ensure transparency and consistency across products.

Of particular note is the clarification of naming conventions for meat, poultry and fish ingredients. Additionally, there are new requirements for listing sugar sources and vitamin/mineral premixes using common or usual names, as listed in the AAFCO Official Publication.

4. Handling and Storage Instructions:

While handling and storage instructions are optional, they are encouraged under the new regulations. If included, these instructions must be clearly readable and presented under a bold header. The regulations also specify guidelines for the use of graphics to support handling and storage instructions, so that consumers can easily understand how to properly handle and store their pet food products.

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Adoption and enforcement

The implementation of these new regulations will be overseen by state regulatory agencies, with AAFCO encouraging uniform and timely adoption to ensure consistency across jurisdictions. To facilitate this process, AAFCO has recommended that state feed regulatory programs exercise enforcement discretion for six years following the availability of the printed version of the 2024 AAFCO Official Publication.

Furthermore, AAFCO will hold workshops to educate stakeholders on the new regulations. The next workshop will be at Petfood Forum on April 29, 2024.

About the author: 

Dr. Randall Johnson has more than 40 years of experience as a consultant to the pet food, livestock feed and aquaculture industries. A registered professional animal scientist, Dr. Johnson regularly offers advisory services for the Pet Food Institute’s Nutrition Task Force, as well as its International Trade and Regulatory Affairs committees.

Dr. Johnson is a diplomate of the American College of Animal Nutrition. He has previously served on the staff of the University of Missouri, where he also completed a post-doctoral fellowship, and as an adjunct associate professor in the Arizona State University School of Agribusiness and Environmental Resources.