Regulatory Agencies

The pet food industry is regulated by several agencies in the USA. The industry is far less regulated in Europe, and in most other countries is not regulated at all.

Association of American Feed Control Officials

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an advisory body that does not make or enforce any laws or regulations. AAFCO members are feed control officials from states and territories within the USA and Canada. Pet food manufacturers and veterinary groups liaison with AAFCO as well.

AAFCO provides a forum for the development of uniform and equitable laws and policies that each state may then individually choose to adopt. Each state chooses whether to enforce all or part of the AAFCO recommendations.

In 1990 and 1991, AAFCO established the Canine and Feline Nutrition Expert subcommittees that developed and published the nutrient requirements and testing procedures for pet food claims of complete and balanced nutrition.

Food and Drug Administration

The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine regulates the pet food industry for legality, truthfulness, accuracy and fairness. The FDA also monitors and approves all claims of product structure & function, therapeutic efficacy, and health benefit. In general, the FDA is responsible for:

a. Pet food labeling regulations
b. Permitting certain ingredients such as drugs and additives
c. Enforcing regulations on chemical and microbiological contamination
d. Describing acceptable manufacturing procedures

United States Department of Agriculture

The USDA is responsible for ensuring that pet foods are labeled such that they are not mistaken for human foods. They monitor pet food ingredients and ensure proper handling of such ingredients. They also inspect and regulate all animal research facilities in the USA owned and operated by pet food companies.

Federal Trade Commission

The FTC regulates all media advertising of pet foods.

Market forces

The pet food industry is a highly competitive market. No one company dominates the industry, for there are several hundred pet food manufacturers, and there is stiff competition throughout the marketplace. In 2007, Mars, Inc and Nestle SA together had just over 50% of the global pet food market. In that sense, the industry is self-regulated.

In 1998, there were approximately 55 million dogs and 66 million cats in the United States and pet food sales totaled $10 billion. The pet e-commerce industry, selling food plus related products and services via the Internet, was projected to be a $30 billion annual industry within the first few years.

In 2007, there are approximately 88 million pet cats and 74 million pet dogs in the US. The number of dogs increased 1.2% between 2005 and 2007, and the number of cats declined by 2.4% during that period, and pet food sales in the U.S. alone totaled $25 billion.

Mass merchandisers command 34.5% of the total market for petfood and supplies, compared to 22% for supermarkets and 19% for pet specialty stores. Mass merchandiser prices are 13-18% lower than the prices in traditional supermarkets while pet specialty stores offer a "warm and fuzzy" shopping experience and frequent shopper programs. Petfood Industry July 2008

At one time, it was estimated that the majority of dogs and cats in the United States received 90% or more of their nutrition from complete and balanced commercially prepared foods, and this estimate was re-affirmed in a 2004 survey. However, 4 years and several pet food and treat recalls later, fewer pet owners are feeding commercial pet food products exclusively and more are asking questions and looking for alternatives. As in any market driven economy, there are many more alternative diets and food products available today from which owners may select. A difficult to measure but growing number of clients are feeding homemade diets that provide 100% of their pet’s nutrition, while a larger number are feeding a combination of products, treats and home prepared meals.

As pet owners become increasingly interested in the nutrition of their pets, noticeably more so since the recent pet food recalls, they are looking for “healthy” alternatives. Some owners attribute greater long term health benefits to feeding a “more natural” or “organic” food to their pet although there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. In the US, pet owners spent $520 million in 2005 on pet food products labeled natural. Sales of ‘natural’ pet foods in the U.S. are estimated to reach $1.042 billion in 2010 with the ‘organic’ segment approaching $100 million.

Feeding commercially prepared pet food offers several advantages over home prepared meals such as convenience, consistency, reasonable assurance of quality and nutritional balance plus a cost savings. However, a growing number of owners are willing to forego the advantages of commercial products and prepare homemade foods for their pets for a variety of reasons.

A May 2007 Greenfield Online survey found that 93% of pet owners were aware of the petfood recalls. Petfood Industry July 2008.

Asked if the petfood recalls changed their petfood purchases, 30% said yes and specified as follows:

I changed the brand of petfood I buy - 62%. 
I made homemade petfood for my pet - 28%. 
I switched to organic petfood - 16%. 
I changed the retailer from which I buy petfood - 15%. 
Other - 18%.