Feed Bites

Food Safety Requires Formaldehyde

Written by: Gary Huddleston   |   March 14, 2023

Feed safety, Federal agencies, formaldehyde

Are you aware that formaldehyde is an important feed additive for reducing virus risks, which the Environmental Protection Agency is currently trying to ban? First, let me explain why formaldehyde is in animal food and then I will discuss how the EPA’s current regulations may impact its safe use in animal food manufacturing in the future.

Why formaldehyde?

For over 40 years, formaldehyde has safely been used by U.S. animal food manufacturers to control harmful pathogens in feed. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an effective antimicrobial and is particularly valuable at preventing viruses and bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli, from entering the food chain.

Feed additives containing formaldehyde are safely applied in feed mills by accurate, automated equipment that significantly minimizes employee exposure. Having managed a facility that used formaldehyde for over 17 years, I can speak to this from personal experience, as we used the product extensively and safely over that period of time.

As we all know, salmonella is a major human food safety concern in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that in the United States, there are about 1.35 million cases of salmonellosis, resulting in 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths, annually. While formaldehyde is not the only tool, it is a very effective one to have in our toolbox to help keep salmonella out of our food chain by reducing its presence in animal food.

Formaldehyde maintains a salmonella-negative status in complete feeds and feed ingredients for up to 21 days, which allows enough time for the treated feed to be fed to livestock on the farm before it has a chance to be recontaminated with salmonella. There is also some good research coming out of Kansas State University that shows formaldehyde may be a very effective tool to kill the African swine fever (ASF) virus, a virus that is lethal to hogs and could be economically devastating to hog producers should it enter the country.

If we have an ASF outbreak in the United States, formaldehyde could prove to be the best tool in our toolbox to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus through feed.

So why does EPA care?

In April 2022, the EPA released its 2,000+ page draft Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment of formaldehyde with only a 60-day public comment period.

Right off the bat, the agency did not provide nearly enough time for the industry to review a document of such size. There also wasn’t sufficient communication with the FDA or U.S. Department of Agriculture during the required interagency review process. The draft IRIS assessment is now being reviewed by the National Academies through a specially appointed committee.

During a public assessment meeting in January, I urged the National Academies committee to evaluate the scientific literature adequately and transparently to assure appropriate methods to synthesize the current state-of-the science are used and that any conclusions regarding the hazard identification analysis and dose-response analysis of formaldehyde that are presented are properly supported by sound scientific evidence. I also asked the committee to urge the agency to go back and have meaningful discussions with the FDA and USDA regarding the many safe uses of formaldehyde in animal agriculture. Earlier this month, I raised the same concerns with the EPA Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee during a public meeting.

The American Feed Industry Association is continuing to work with other industry trade associations to push back on the EPA’s efforts to eliminate this important tool from our food safety toolbox.

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