Pet food safety

As they open the tin, harassed by their “best friend” or feline lodger, many pet owners must have at some time wondered about the quality of the product that they are adding to the food bowl. Well, worry not, there are strict pet food safety regulations covering the manufacture of animal feed, a term that includes pet food, to ensure that it is safe and nutritious. In Europe (and now within the UK) there are over 50 pieces of relevant legislation that serve to:

  • ensure that animal feed may only be placed on the market and used if it is safe; there are, for instance, lists of materials that should be controlled or are not permitted
  • regulate the use of feed additives, including preservatives, flavourings, colourings, vitamins and minerals, enzymes, and coccidiostats/histomonostats (the latter two to control gut parasites)
  • set down standards relating to the transport and storage of feed, ensuring that pet food safety standards are maintained throughout the entire supply chain.

The regulations

As the raw materials intended for the pet food industry come from the same place as those destined for the human food chain (albeit our pooches and pussycats generally receive the ‘surplus’ or less appetising parts!), pet food benefits from the same stringent legal protection as human food. This includes, for example, restrictions on the residue levels of veterinary substances in meat and of pesticides in cereal products. A focus on pet food safety ensures that pets are not exposed to harmful substances.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) similarly has strict regulations to ensure that the ingredients are safe and have an appropriate function. Many, such as meat, poultry and grains, are considered safe and may be used without the need for pre-market approval ingredients. Others, including sources of minerals, vitamins or other nutrients, flavourings, preservatives, or processing aids, may already be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for their intended use in animal feed, otherwise they must have approval for feed additive use – it is illegal to use an unapproved (for human food) additive in pet food. Colourings must have their own specific approvals.

The European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF) produces guidelines (reviewed by independent veterinary nutritionists across Europe) that describe the nutritional needs of cats and dogs at varying life stages. With this in mind, owners should ensure that the label of their chosen pet food includes the term ‘complete’, as this means it must contain, by law, all of the nutrients a pet needs for healthy bodily function and is in line with pet food safety standards. With quality assured, the main human responsibility reverts to quantity, a challenge indeed to withstand those appealing looks. On a similar theme, although we all like an occasional treat, ‘occasional’ is the key word here, perhaps not so many should be handed out to the family pet in order to avoid an overweight (and therefore less-than healthy) animal?

So, how can we help?

Bibra has unrivalled experience in the toxicological evaluation of food additives and ingredients. And for any pet food manufacturers with plans to introduce entirely new ingredients, we would be very happy to evaluate any available toxicology data and, on this basis, to advise whether such a choice seems appropriate or otherwise to ensure pet food safety standards are likely to be met.


European Pet Food industry (FEDIAF).

UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).

UK Pet Food (previously the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association, PFMA).

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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