Recently several batches of dog food have been recalled because they were found to have levels of aflatoxins above acceptable limits. Aflatoxins develop when the mold Aspergilus forms on corn, a common ingredient in pet foods.

This time it was dry Dog Power Dog Food produced by Advanced Animal Nutrition.  Before that, two other dog food manufacturers (The Procter & Gamble Company which makes Iams ProActive Health Smart Puppy dry dog food and Cargill Animal Nutrition, which makes both River Run and Marksman dog food) also pulled their products off the shelves for high aflatoxin levels. Cargill also made several of the other brands, such as Arrow.

Aflatoxins can cause sluggishness, vomiting, and diarrhea in some dogs.

While all of these recalls were voluntary on the part of the manufacturers, the situation can still leave many animal owners concerned about the safety of their pet foods. Here is some basic information about the duties of the government and pet food manufacturers to keep pet food safe, as well as some ways that consumers can get involved.

Pet food regulation is performed both by federal and state governments.  The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) is the basic federal law for regulating pet food (and people food) in the country.  The FFDCA requires that all pet foods are to be safe for animals to eat.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of enforcing the FFDCA and the Center for Veterinary Medicine is the branch within the FDA that is specifically responsible for making sure that pet foods are safe.

At the state level, each state government has its own set of regulations for pet food.  While the federal and state governments are distinctly separate systems for pet food regulation, they will often work with each other to make sure that pet food is safe.  The biggest difference is that the state governments will only have authority over pet food distributed in its particular state while the federal government will have authority over pet food distribution across all state lines.

Currently there is no federal agency that is specifically responsible for monitoring and responding to foodborne disease outbreaks in pet food.  Because of this, the Pet Event Tracking Network, or PETNet, was established to act as a web-based monitoring system that can be used by both federal and state agencies.  PETNet is comprised solely of federal, state, and local government employees that are experts in pet food regulation and safety.  PETNet’s main role is to share information and report any problems to pet food regulators who can then take immediate action to solve the problems.

Registered Food Facilities that manufacture pet food are required under federal law to report when there is a possibility that its food will cause health problems for animals.  In order to do this, the FDA created a Reportable Food Registry for Industry called the Safety Reporting Portal (SRP), which is an online mechanism for bringing food safety issues to the attention of the FDA.  The SRP is supposed to review every report that it receives and take appropriate action after its review.

There are also a few options available to consumers who want to take an active role in the safety of not only their own pets, but all pets nationwide.

The FDA provides a few options that consumers may use to report complaints about pet food.  Just like pet food manufacturers, consumers can also use the Safety Reporting Portal to submit complaints about a particular pet food.  After the SRP reviews the complaint, the issue will either be immediately investigated or handled in some other manner, such as following up with the information at the next scheduled inspection of the facility.  Consumers may also contact the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators for their state to report any problems they experience with their pet’s food.

Consumers can stay on top of pet safety issues generally by subscribing to the FDA’s Animal & Veterinary Health RSS feed or by signing up for the FDA’s e-mail subscription service and managing their preferences to include news about “Animal & Veterinary Health.”  If these sources are still too broad, consumers can also check the FDA’s website for pet food recalls or they can search for their specific brand of pet food through the FDA’s Pet Food Recall Products List. 

For any other matters, consumers may call the FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Standard Time) or 1-888-INFO-FDA.  In case of an emergency, the FDA’s 24-hour emergency line is 301-443-1240.


Caitlin Gezgin is a second-year J.D. student at the University of Arkansas School of Law.