How Is Australia’s Dog Food Industry Regulated?
How do you know that the dog food you see on the shelf at your local supermarket or pet store is safe for your pet? Unfortunately, the truth is, there is no way to know for sure. But to answer this question properly, we have to ask - what are the requirements that dog food manufacturers have to follow and who enforces those rules?
Today, we’ll talk about how it all works in Australia.
Spoiler alert: the situation is not great.
Australia's Dog Food Industry - The Key Takeaways
The Australian dog food industry is essentially self-regulated, this is a major problem for consumers
The main problems include vague ingredient lists; no formal system for the public to report adverse reactions; and no governing body to enforce recalls
Related: The Best Dog Foods Australia.
There are, however, voluntary standards which manufacturers can follow
Australian Consumer Law does prohibit false and misleading statements (in advertising and labelling) also in the case of pet food
Multiple organisations are now calling for change and better oversight for the safety of our pets
Pet Food Regulation - Current State of Affairs
How is Australia’s dog food industry regulated? In short, it’s regulated on a voluntary basis. That is to say, there are regulations available, but it’s not compulsory for manufacturers to follow them. Sounds problematic? That’s because it is.
“Because there are no regulations, there are no obligations for any pet food company whether it be global or whether it be a small business, there are no obligations for them to comply with the standards,” Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA) Executive Officer, Carolyn Macgill, 7NEWS.com.au (1)
So is the pet food industry in Australia completely out of control? Well we wouldn’t go that far, but there are a lot of grey areas and the regulation is very loose.
Related: What is AAFCO? The Association of American Feed Control Officials
Related: What Is the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA)?
Related: AAFCO vs PFIAA: Dog Food Standards Comparison Australia
In 2018, a Senate inquiry on the Regulatory approaches to ensure the safety of pet food was conducted. The result of the inquiry was a thorough report on the current state of legislation regarding pet food products and problems that need to be dealt with. If you are interested in more details, we suggest you look through this report. Yes, it is almost five years old, but not much has changed since then.
Related: How To Choose The Right Dog Food.
The only Australian law which covers pet food to some extent is the Australian Consumer Law, which prohibits false or misleading claims on product packaging. However, it has been pointed out that there are problems and complications when it comes to applying the Consumer Law to pets (2, 3).
Voluntary Initiatives & Standards
Australian Pet Food Standard AS5812
AS 5812:2017 provides guidelines and requirements for the manufacturing, processing, and marketing of pet food products in Australia. It covers both complete and complementary pet foods.
Manufacturers can opt to become members of the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA), which entails following the standard. But, as mentioned, this is not compulsory.
Related: Real Meat vs Meat Meal
Unfortunately, the standard is not publicly available and one has to pay over $100 to read it (which is one of the problems noted in the 2018 report mentioned above).
Additional criteria for hygienic production specific to meat are included in PISC 88 technical report, which is overseen by state food authorities. The purpose of this standard is to establish the basic criteria that must be met for the production and processing of meat used in pet food within Australia. Its main objective is to guarantee that pet meat is manufactured in a manner that is both safe and hygienic.
The standard encompasses several key areas related to pet meat production. These include the sourcing and management of raw materials, the processing and packaging of pet meat, and the storage and transportation of pet meat products. Additionally, it provides guidance on the proper cleaning and sanitation practices to be followed in production facilities and with equipment.
In the absence of government regulation, the Pet Food Adverse Event System of Tracking (PetFAST) was created in 2012 through a collaborative effort between the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA) and the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), with oversight provided by the AVA.
Under PetFAST, veterinarians have the ability to report any instances of suspected negative health effects that they believe are associated with a pet's food. These reports are closely monitored by the AVA and the PFIAA. While every individual report may not be individually examined, if a pattern or trend emerges concerning a specific food—meaning that three or more cases are reported—the issue will be investigated further.
While this is a good initiative, it is far from perfect:
“As it's a voluntary initiative, potentially not all vets are aware of, or involved with, the program. Additionally, pet food companies aren't under any legal onus to initiate a recall based on a pet food safety concern, so it requires negotiation with the industry." - Bronwyn Orr from RSPCA Australia, Choice (4)
My Final Thoughts
As you can see, there are a few standards and regulatory texts you could delve into if you are really interested in pet food regulation. But, the most important part is, they are voluntary and not enforced.
In other words, pet food manufacturers can currently get away with many questionable things in Australia.
The good news is, there are organisations advocating for better control and there is a chance we might be seeing some positive changes in the future. Sooner would be better than later, but one can only hope.
- Lewin, R. April 9, 2023. “Calls for tighter regulation of pet food manufacturing as industry body warns of lack of consistency”. 7NEWS.com.au. Retrieved May 30, 2023. https://7news.com.au/lifestyle/pets/calls-for-stringent-regulation-of-pet-food-manufacturing-as-industry-body-warns-of-lack-of-consistency-c-10268273
- “Regulatory approaches to ensure the safety of pet food”. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved June 5, 2023. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Rural_and_Regional_Affairs_and_Transport/SafetyofPetFood
- “The regulation of pet food”. Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics. Retrieved June 5, 2023. https://www.sentient.org.au/the-regulation-of-pet-food
- Bray, K. July 9, 2018. “ Pet food regulation”. Choice. Retrieved June 5, 2023. https://www.choice.com.au/outdoor/pets/products/articles/pet-food-regulation?fbclid=IwAR1W6nWPbx5EuCvwymBUOL7kFnt3LnZiOqtTSl8c9UfVGIcjgegMbYqoJU8#campaign