FDA pushes rules to regulate pet foods

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The Food and Drug Administration proposed rules Friday that would govern the production of pet food and farm animal feed for the first time.

The regulation would help prevent food-borne illness in both animals and people, officials at the agency said, as people can become sick from handling contaminated animal food and from touching pets that have eaten it.

The proposal comes six years after the biggest pet food recall in history, when a Chinese producer contaminated dog and cat food with melamine, a compound used in plastics, causing the deaths of animals across the United States.

The public outcry helped lead to the inclusion of animal food in the Food Safety and Modernization Act, a landmark food safety bill that passed with broad support in 2010 and was the first major overhaul of the Food and Drug Administration's food safety laws since the 1930s. It gives the FDA more control over food imports as well as broad new powers to set standards to prevent contamination of produce and processed food.

Jerky treats have also caused pet deaths. Since 2007, the FDA has counted about 580 pet deaths connected to chicken, duck and sweet potato jerky treats, nearly all of which were imported from China. But it is not clear whether the regulations, if passed, could have prevented the deaths because the FDA is not sure yet what the hazard is. The agency had received more than 3,000 complaints about the jerky over five years.

The proposal does not address the use of antibiotics given to animals, sometimes in feed. Public health advocates warn that it is contributing to dangerous levels of antibiotic resistance in humans.

The proposed regulations are open for public comment for 120 days. If passed, they would regulate production of feed for millions of farm animals, including cows, pigs and chickens, as well as pet food.

Much like regulations proposed for human food this year, the rules would require makers of animal food sold in the United States to develop a written plan to prevent food-borne illnesses, such as salmonella, and to put it into effect. Producers would need to install protective procedures at critical times during production where issues are likely to arise.

For example, for canned dog food, producers might have to set up a system to monitor whether the food has been cooked long enough at the right temperature, said Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. They would also need to keep records to document it.

"We know from experience that when the system doesn't deliver, people get irate," Mr. Taylor said. "It's all about having a systematic plan to make the food safe."

The rules would also require producers to correct problems that arise and re-evaluate their plans at least every three years. And they would require producers to maintain standards of cleanliness for the facilities and for people who work in them.



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