The Food and Drug Administration is proposing new rules to regulate the safety of pet food and animal feed for the first time.
The regulations call for production guidelines that would minimize risks and prevent outbreaks of food-borne illness.
The announcement comes as the FDA continues to grapple with a case of potential poisoning linked to jerky treats manufactured in China that is believed to be responsible for nearly 600 pet deaths since 2007. The agency has yet to determine what is causing the deaths.
“Historically, we have put most of our efforts into responding to safety issues involving animal food as they arise,” said Daniel McChesney, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine in a blog post Friday. “And while regulations have been crafted to address such threats as the brain-wasting bovine spongiform encephalopathy [better known as "mad cow" disease], this regulation moves towards a comprehensive, risk-based regulatory framework to keep all animal foods safe.”
McChesney said the new rules are needed to prevent recurrences of outbreaks like the 2007 melamine scandal in which the chemical used to make plastic was added to pet food produced in China, killing and sickening thousands of pets across the U.S.
Contaminated pet food can also sicken humans. Last year, 30,000 tons of dry dog and cat food were recalled because of a salmonella outbreak linked to a production facility in Gaston, S.C. Nearly 50 people were reportedly sickened in 20 states.
The proposed rules stem from the sweeping new bill known as the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, which placed a greater onus on food producers both domestic and foreign to implement safety plans.
“The proposed rule would require makers of animal feed and pet food to be sold in the U.S. to develop a formal plan and put into place procedures to prevent food borne illness,” the FDA said in a written statement Friday. “The rule would also require them to have plans for correcting any problems that arise.”
The proposal is open to public comment the next 120 days before taking effect. The FDA said compliance would cost the industry an estimated $130 million.