Mix dog breed waiting patiently for their dinner.

What is AAFCO? The Association of American Feed Control Officials

How do we choose the best dog food for our canine companions? Certifications and standards can help us gain trust in a manufacturer and choose one over the other. The AAFCO statement on many dog foods tells us that the feed is “complete” and “nutritionally balanced”.

But what does that really mean? And does AAFCO control and enforce that?

Read on to find out.

What Is AAFCO?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an independent nonprofit organisation in the USA. Membership in the organisation is voluntary and the members are mostly officials who are involved with regulations for pet food (and animal feed in general) in their respective states.

The AAFCO is mostly known to the average pet food consumer due to the AAFCO statement, which ought to guarantee adequate nutrient levels in pet food. But the AAFCO guidelines actually cover more than just nutrition. While AAFCO is primarily focused on establishing nutritional standards for pet foods, their guidelines also address other aspects related to pet food regulation. These additional areas include:

  • Ingredient Definitions: AAFCO provides definitions for various ingredients used in pet foods, which helps ensure consistency and clarity in ingredient labelling. These definitions help manufacturers accurately describe the composition of their products.
  • Labelling Requirements: While the FDA sets the federal labelling requirements for pet foods, AAFCO provides additional guidance and recommendations. Their guidelines aim to promote accurate and informative labelling, covering areas such as product name, ingredient listing, guaranteed analysis, and feeding directions.
  • Feeding Trials: AAFCO guidelines outline protocols for conducting feeding trials to assess the nutritional adequacy of pet foods. These trials involve feeding the product to animals and monitoring their health and well being over a specified period. Successful completion of a feeding trial is one way for manufacturers to demonstrate the nutritional adequacy of their pet foods. However, some are sceptical about this aspect of AAFCO guidelines because the required sample size is very small (8 animals) and the trials are not consistently performed (1).
  • Nutrient Profiles: AAFCO establishes nutrient profiles for different life stages of pets (such as growth, maintenance, and reproduction). These profiles serve as a reference for pet food manufacturers to formulate their products to meet the specific nutritional needs of animals at different life stages.
  • Model Regulations: AAFCO develops model regulations that serve as a reference for states to develop their own pet food regulations. These model regulations encompass a wide range of topics, including labelling, ingredient definitions, manufacturing, and more.

Does AAFCO Regulate Pet Food?

It might surprise you to learn that the AAFCO does not enforce its rules on pet food manufacturers. It does not test the foods or perform any kind of audit. However, many states in the US have adopted the AAFCO guidelines as enforceable regulations to which dog food manufacturers must adhere.

Related: How To Choose The Right Dog Food. 

Even where they are not legally binding, the AAFCO guidelines are widely followed by the pet food industry. Compliance with AAFCO guidelines is often considered a mark of quality and adherence to industry best practices.

What Does AAFCO Approved Mean?

The AAFCO statement on dog food packaging refers to the essential nutrient profiles determined by the AAFCO. You’ll see it almost always on dog food made in the US, but also often in other countries, simply because it’s the most well known standard. The statement is meant to confirm that the formula in question contains all the essential nutrients for a particular life stage.

The life stages, according to the AAFCO, are Adult Maintenance and Growth and Reproduction (plus  a newer additional guideline for large breed dogs).

The AAFCO statement also tells you how the nutritional adequacy was determined. There are two ways to do that - through feeding trials or just through laboratory analysis.

If a feeding trial was successfully done, the AAFCO statement on the back of the food bag will contain the words “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that X-Dog-Food provides complete and balanced nutrition”. If only a laboratory test was done to determine the nutrient levels, you will see something along the lines of “X-Dog-Food was formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO” (2).

Does it matter which method was used to prove the nutrient profile of the food? Well, not exactly. The feeding trials are certainly an extra step in the right direction, but they are also not a perfect guarantee.

Does Australian Pet Food Have to Be Approved by AAFCO?

The short answer is no. As we mentioned above, even pet food in the USA doesn’t have to be approved by the AAFCO, because that’s simply not what AAFCO does. They create the guidelines, but they do not enforce them. However, most states in the US have chosen to make the AAFCO or another similar guideline a requirement, hence the food actually needs to be approved to meet the AAFCO standards (it is just not approved by AAFCO, but rather independent testing institutions).

Related: How Is Australia’s Dog Food Industry Regulated?

In Australia, dog food doesn’t have to conform to any similar regulation, at least for the time being. However, many known dog food brands are members of The Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA), which does encourage its members to adhere to the Australian Standard for Manufacturing and marketing of pet food (AS5812-2017) and get certified for doing so.

So, what does all of that have to do with AAFCO? Well, the Australian standard doesn’t have its own nutritional guideline. Instead, it stipulates that it must meet the minimum requirements of the “international nutritional publication (INP)”. The INP can be either the AAFCO Official Publication (used in the USA) or the FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines (used in Europe).

Related: AAFCO vs PFIAA.

Sounds a bit too complicated? That’s because it is. But, in short, Australian pet food does not need to be approved by the AAFCO, but manufacturers can choose to get the food tested to prove that it meets the standards.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) plays a significant role in establishing guidelines and standards for pet food regulation in the United States. The AAFCO statement found on pet food packaging indicates that the formula meets the essential nutrient profiles determined by AAFCO for a specific life stage. It also indicates whether the nutritional adequacy was determined through feeding trials or laboratory analysis.

In Australia, the AAFCO statement on pet food is not a requirement, but it is a possibility, and demonstrates that the manufacturer adheres to some form of guideline and test their pet food product to an agreed standard.


  1. Postins, L. July 29, 2022. “What Is AAFCO”. Dogs Naturally. Retrieved June 15, 2023. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/what-is-aafco/
  2. LaMon, V. December 28, 2020. “What Is AAFCO and What Does It Do?”. PetMD. Retrieved June 15, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/What-Is-AAFCO-and-What-Does-It-Do

Vedrana Nikolic

Vedrana Nikolić is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer, Anthropologist & dog lover.

With a Masters Degree in Semiotics & Bachelors Degree in Anthropology, studying the communication between animals and humans, Vedrana is able to use her expertise to analyse and review dog products and write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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