Written by: Louise Calderwood | March 23, 2023
The year 2015 offered few notable fashion, news or entertainment headlines, unless the unfortunate bumbling “Left Shark” of the Super Bowl halftime show counts as all three. But in the world of pet food, 2015 was a big year. It was the year the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) started to “review and consider potential changes to modernize pet food labeling…,” and now, after nearly eight years of hard work, the label changes are on the brink of roll-out.
When launching the multi-year, AAFCO-led, pet food label modernization effort, the association intended to provide consumers with easy-to-understand information on their pets’ food packaging so that they could comprehend the nutritional benefits their pets gained from eating the food or treats and how to best feed their pets and store the remaining food. It sought to do this by creating alignment with the formatting of human food nutrition boxes, provide front-of-packaging pet nutrition cues for consumers, consider the development of handling and storage instructions, and change the analysis requirements for fiber. Industry, including many American Feed Industry Association members, has worked alongside state and federal regulators in the step-by-step process of developing new analysis requirements, packaging narrative and visual prompts to increase consumers’ understanding of pet food labels.
For example, nutrition fact boxes, similar in format to what are used on human foods, will state the number of calories per common household unit, such as a cup or can of pet food. The updated facts box format will also include the actual amounts of protein, fat, dietary fiber and carbohydrates instead of the previously used minimum guarantees for protein, fat and crude fiber. These changes will support consumer selection of pet foods to best meet the needs of individual pets.
Pet food manufacturers will also have the opportunity to voluntarily use standardized icons to provide information about best practices for storing pet foods and common handling steps, such as hand washing and separating utensils for serving pet foods. They will also be asked to provide clear language on the lower third of the front of pet food packages to plainly state the intended uses of the food with statements, such as “Complete food for adult dogs,” or “Cat and kitten treats.”
By the end of 2024, we expect that some pet food labels may start to include the changes brought about by this herculean effort, but it will take many years before all manufacturers are able to be in full compliance with the required changes.
Educational materials are currently being developed to assist manufacturers, regulators, retailers and veterinarians in their different roles for the promotion and regulation of the new label formats and to assure consumer understanding of the increased information available for determining pet food choices.
So where does that leave us now? The changes passed the AAFCO Pet Food Committee and are awaiting a vote by the full AAFCO membership later this summer. The next big steps will include the demanding task of state-by-state approval of the AAFCO-sanctioned changes, industry adoption of the new label requirements, and retailer and consumer education about the revised labels. It has taken eight years to formalize the changes to pet food labels and now in 2023, a new shark has taken the stage. Move over Left Shark, it’s all about “Baby Shark” now.