Written by: Louise Calderwood | March 1, 2022
State legislators are to be admired for the work they do. Most are paid very little for their service – all the way down to the $100 annually that New Hampshire’s lawmakers make for months of work, entailing long hours and time away from home. But sometimes, it would be appreciated if state legislators didn’t work quite so hard... This year, we have been tracking several state bills that hold no regard for federal regulations or the appropriate use of funds collected from businesses.
These bills cause confusion for companies and consumers and siphon funding that could better be used for new product development to address the productivity and health of America’s domestic livestock and pets.
Let’s start with the regulation of hemp products used in animal food, which I covered recently on our blog. Over the last few years, several states have passed bills allowing the use of hemp in animal food, in direct violation of the requirement for animal foods to undergo rigorous review and safety approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
Some states, such as Montana, only allow hemp in pet and horse food, whereas other states, such as Tennessee, have passed laws to allow the use of hemp products, but have never developed the required rules for oversight of the ingredients. This year, the South Dakota legislature briefly considered a measure to add hemp to the definition of “commercial feed” and then create a new section in the state’s commercial feed law stating that the definition will only go into effect when the South Dakota secretary of agriculture certifies that the FDA has reviewed hemp as an approved food additive or defined ingredient for use in commercial feed for livestock. The proposed S.D. bill did not address the use of hemp products in pet foods.
These varied approaches to the regulation of hemp are confusing, but at least the South Dakota consideration was legal, though short lived. AAFCO, in collaboration with 16 industry organizations, including the American Feed Industry Association, recently sent a letter to state leaders encouraging the appropriate review of hemp products, rather than an unregulated state-by-state approval process, which would help harmonize some of these state discrepancies.
Now let’s move on to appropriate use of animal food registration fees. Our members care for the wellbeing of animals, in fact, it is their sole mission to formulate safe, nutritious diets that maintain healthy and productive animals. However, the growing incidence of state legislation forcing animal food manufacturers to pay for social welfare programs is unwarranted.
For example, Maine was the first legislature to apply a surcharge to pet food registrations as a way to fund spay and neuter programs for pets owned by low-income citizens and several states have now followed suit. In addition to Maine, West Virginia, New Mexico and Maryland tax pet food manufacturers between $20 and $75 per product label to support low-cost spay and neuter clinics. This fee is in addition to the registration fee pet food manufacturers are charged to register in those states. Spay and neuter programs are effective in reducing euthanasia of pets without homes, but it is inappropriate to fund them through taxes on pet food manufacturers.
Maine goes even further in funding animal welfare through their misapplication of registration fees. In Maine, registration fees are used for animal welfare staff positions and the care of seized animals during court cases. None of the label registration fees collected in Maine are used for their intended purpose: the regulatory oversight of the animal food industry. For example, a calf feed manufacturer pays $80 per label to register their products and half of that is used for the Animal Welfare Program. The other $40 disappears into the morass of the state’s general fund. Here’s the catch, most of the Animal Welfare Program’s work addresses welfare issues for companion animals and horses, so the calf feed manufacturer is paying to support a program that has no regulatory function.
By contrast, Vermont charges $105 per label registration and uses the money to pay staff to collect samples at mills and retail stores, run laboratory analysis on the samples and publish a report of label violations.
Funding for Maryland’s spay and neuter program is up for renewal in the legislature this year and efforts are already underway to expand the program to include more feral cats. That means more money has to come from somewhere and pet food manufacturers are once again being considered an easy target to line the state’s coffers. We have succeeded in having an amendment added to the Maryland bill requesting the consideration of new funding sources for the spay and neuter program.
We regularly track proposed legislation across the country and submit testimony to support our members’ positions. Now, if we could just encourage a few more legislators to promote a better business climate for manufacturers and take a break from imagining new ways to spend money.