Isn’t Australian pet food better than other countries? Aren’t our ingredients fresher, safer, more nutritious? As I’m based in Australia, I’m often asked about how pet food is different here compared to other countries, what our regulations are like, what the quality is like and if food that’s made in Australia is better by comparison to other pet foods. Sometimes pet food companies reinforce patriotism and contend that if it’s made in Australia, it must be incredible. However is this actually the case? Is our food actually better than other countries?
In short, there are none. Pet food is self regulated, meaning it is up to the pet food company on what (if any) protocols they put in place, how they manufacture or formulate their food and what quality control is performed. Here in Australia, there’s no governing body overseeing pet food – compared to in the US where the FDA have some control over pet food, and can order recalls, perform investigations and assist in regulatory processes of ingredients and standards, in Australia there’s no such equivalent. Pet food companies can opt to become voluntary members of the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA) which means they must follow a set of Australian manufacturing standards – however it’s very important to remember that this is NOT enforced so if a company does not join PFIAA, there’s no obligation for them to follow the standards. And while it is admirable if the company is a member, it isn’t a legal requirement to be a member.
What happens with recalls?
In Australia, we have a voluntary reporting system called PetFast; this is an online portal where vets can log incidents if they suspect illness they are seeing in their patients is related to a pet food. Because this is a voluntary system, reporting is low and PetFast does not have the authority to issue recalls – they can only put out advisory notices and contact the manufacturer to ask them to recall their food. Unlike the FDA which can order a company to recall it’s food, PetFast is not able to do this. Currently in Australia we are pushing for a mandatory reporting system and government input to allow PetFast to work with industry and government authorities to oversee pet food and ultimately reduce pet food related deaths.
What about our ingredients?
I’ve spoken many times about how ingredients don’t necessarily play a big role in the quality of the diet, but what nutrients the ingredients deliver is far more important. Pet food is more than the sum of its parts, it takes careful science and years of research to create a good quality food. Our ingredients that are sourced here will be no better than ingredients sourced overseas if they are not appropriately transported, processed, stored and formulated into diets. And these processes take years of research, quality control and experience to perfect – our pet food industry is in its infancy – we do not have dedicated research facilities for feeding trials or even a veterinary nutrition service here in Australia. In fact, we largely rely on Massey University in New Zealand for most of our Australian made pet food products (that do conduct their own research). It’s also wrong to assume offshore owned products aren’t using Australian ingredients just because they aren’t ‘Australian made’ – I know of a few Australian suppliers who sell their product (meat, grain etc) to overseas owned pet food companies who then manufacture their diets locally or offshore.
Does Australia have an equivalent to AAFCO or FEDIAF?
No, because these associations conduct research and release nutritional requirements based on updated research and guidelines for pet food – as discussed above we do not have any sort of research facility that performs these trials here in Australia. So instead, we generally follow AAFCO requirements for pet food however we do largely rely on products that are imported to follow the legislature in their origin country as we don’t have any such regulations. This is why it is still important to check your food is formulated to AAFCO or FEDIAF requirements. Unfortunately I do sometimes still see products on the shelves that don’t have a nutritional adequacy statement so it’s vital we always look for this.
But shouldn’t we support local business?
While it’s great to support small local companies, it’s important to think why big pet food companies exist; you cannot make a profit on bad food and harming your clientele. Small companies do not have the same money to invest into research, formulation and quality control that a big company will. It’s also wrong to assume, like I mentioned above, that big companies aren’t supporting local businesses – many will use local suppliers for their manufacturing because this reduces the potential for the product to be spoilt in transit and keeps the nutritional integrity of the ingredient. It’s also important to consider that when you buy your food from your local pet shop or vet, a small portion of the markup goes back to that seller regardless of the fact that the product itself isn’t made by an Australian company.
If you still really want to support Australian businesses, I usually suggest getting treats that are made here from reputable and high quality small businesses. Treats made offshore, due to transport issues and manufacturing processes, may be lesser in quality than those made locally and you don’t need to worry about nutritional adequacy of treats (as they are only making up a small portion of the diet).
What can pet owners do to protect their pets?
I encourage everyone to investigate their pet food company based on the WSAVA guidelines; this means asking questions like checking who is formulating your pet food – is it someone with advanced qualifications and knowledge of pet food and manufacturing (not an enthusiast!)? Does the food have a nutritional adequacy statement (AAFCO statement on the bag)? What sort of quality control does the company perform? And do they perform any research or feeding trials on their diets? Often this information is readily available on the manufacturer’s website, or can be obtained by calling or emailing the company directly.
It’s never a good idea to assume simply because a product is made in Australia (or anywhere for that matter) that it must be of superior quality. I encourage everyone to be proactive about investigating pet foods and to ask a professional if they aren’t sure.
It’s also vital to report any illness your pet experiences as a result of diet and ask your vet to report it to PetFast – this doesn’t just help your pet, it helps hundreds if not thousands of other consumers and manufacturers so mistakes are not repeated (and other pet’s lives aren’t endangered).
Where do we go from here?
Right now as we speak, the vet industry, pet food stakeholders, PFIAA, the AVA and the Department of Agriculture are campaigning for mandatory regulation here in Australia. At the moment, the government is trying to decide whose responsibility it should be to govern pet food here in Australia as we don’t really have anything like the FDA and it’s not really any one entity’s responsibility. There’s a working group at the moment that is formulating a case to try and get some laws passed and a committee formed to regulate pet food Australia-wide, however it’s going to be a challenge with each state having its own slightly different rules when it comes to food ingredients, agriculture and pet food.
The main thing is, we are talking about it and things are in motion. I do believe we will get regulation soon, and I can only hope it comes soon enough that we don’t have to go through yet another devastating recall and pet food related deaths.
Did you know that Australia’s pet food industry is unregulated? Leave a comment below on what you learnt today!