The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) was formed in 1909 to establish a framework for uniform regulation of the feed industry. Although it is not a government agency, AAFCO operates within the guidelines of federal and state legislation, including laws administered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
What Does AAFCO Do?
AAFCO establishes standards or models for regulations aimed at ensuring that manufacturers provide clear, accurate, and consistent information about animal feed, including pet food.
Every year AAFCO issues an official publication—also referred to as the AAFCO Manual. This manual, in addition to listing ingredient definitions and feed terms, addresses labeling issues such as label format, ingredient lists, nutrition claims, and guaranteed analysis.
These model regulations are different than laws. However, a large number of state governments have adopted AAFCO pet food model regulations into state law.
What Is an AAFCO Statement?
The "AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy or purpose"—also called a "nutrition claim" or "complete and balanced statement"—identifies which life stage and/or lifestyle the product has been approved for. Under AAFCO regulations, the manufacturer must substantiate this statement.
AAFCO recognizes three methods for substantiating the claim:
- Laboratory analysis
- Finished product is compared to minimum nutritional values established by AAFCO Nutrient Profiles for dogs or cats.
- Label states: "ABC Dog (Cat) Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for (appropriate life stage)."
- Feeding trials
- Finished product that has been laboratory tested is fed to dogs or cats according to AAFCO protocols.
- Label states: "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ABC Dog (Cat) Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for (appropriate life stage)."
- Analysis comparable in nutritional adequacy
- Laboratory analysis of finished product is compared with nutritional values from a similar product fed to dogs and cats according to AAFCO protocols.
- Label states: "ABC Dog (Cat) Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for (appropriate life stage) and is comparable in nutritional adequacy to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests."
What Are AAFCO Feeding Protocols?
AAFCO has outlined very specific protocols, or guidelines, for conducting feeding tests. The protocols specify test criteria including things such as:
- Minimum number of animals
- Duration of test
- Physical examinations by a veterinarian
- Clinical observations and measurements, including body weights, blood tests, and blood taurine testing for cats
Each life stage has its own protocol. Life stages are the same for both dogs and cats and are defined as:
- Adult Maintenance
- All Life Stages
What Does "All Life Stages" Mean?
A pet food with an "All Life Stages" claim can be used from weaning through adulthood. This claim is considered an unqualified (absolute) representation of nutritional adequacy. If substantiated through feeding trials, the protocol for gestation/lactation and growth must be performed sequentially, using the same group of animals.
What Does "Intermittent Feeding" Mean?
AAFCO regulations state that specific wording must be used when a diet is intended for special nutritional or dietary needs that require the involvement of a veterinarian for diagnosis, management, and follow-up.
Understanding the AAFCO statements for nutritional adequacy can help customers choose a high-quality diet that provides complete and balanced nutrition for the appropriate life stage of their dog or cat.