Pet Food Compliance logoSource: Pet Food Compliance

TUCSON, ARIZ. — Pet food, treats and supplements are monitored for food safety and regulatory compliance on several levels. While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces the safety of pet food, treats and supplements at the federal level and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) maintains resources detailing which ingredients at what recommended levels can be included in such formulations, state-level regulations are often the biggest headache for companies looking to distribute product across the nation.

The process of getting pet food and treat products registered and labels audited for just a few states can be daunting in terms of both time and money — let alone handling the paperwork for all 50 states. This is because there is no single avenue for registering or licensing pet food products in all 50 states; while there are similarities across the board, each state has its own set of rules, regulations and processes for gathering information for product registrations and label audits.

Regardless of the hassle, there are serious consequences if these processes aren’t properly handled and maintained, warned Deven Wisner, co-founder and chief executive officer of Pet Food Compliance.

“Compliance is less about ROI — it’s the cost of not doing it that gets people in trouble,” Wisner told Pet Food Processing. “There is some sticker shock that comes with all these steps, and the time and money associated with compliance.”

Pet Food Compliance offers services for pet food, treats and animal feed

Out-of-compliance products can cause headaches for brands, regulators and consumers, and may even tarnish a brand's reputation in the marketplace.

| Source: Pet Food Compliance

The stakes are high; not only could an incident of misregistration or mislabeling cause confusion and frustration for pet owners, but it could result in negative pet health outcomes, regulatory fines and fees, and reflect poorly on the brand or manufacturer behind the product.

“One of the big things, in addition to making sure you’re not putting something unsafe on the market, is ensuring you aren’t hurting your brand’s reputation — both with pet owners and retail partners,” Wisner said.

Additionally, labor shortages and a shifting workforce mean the employees who have been handling compliance are now retiring, not to mention an already high turnover in this area of business.

“When that person retires, the task typically gets put on the backburner for months, and by the time they come to us it’s lapsed — that means a lot of late fees and potential penalties,” Wisner added. “All that’s to say, there are several opportunities for these processes to become really costly in fees and burdensome in terms of time.”

Luckily for pet nutrition brands and manufacturers, Pet Food Compliance offers a tailor-made solution to help companies navigate the full-time job of compliance. The firm serves as a central partner helping brands address compliance-related hurdles and challenges so they can focus on what they do best — keeping pets full and healthy.


Partners in compliance

Pet Food Compliance is an animal nutrition-focused spinoff of Global Registration Services and American Law Label, both of which provide compliance assistance to companies in the stuffed goods industries (think mattresses, furniture, garments and even stuffed toys).

“Compliance is less about ROI — it’s the cost of not doing it that gets people in trouble,” said Deven Wisner, Pet Food Compliance.

The idea to extrapolate these services specifically for the pet nutrition industry originally arose through a conversation with Walmart, who was seeking a solution to support its vendors in this space. The concept was to create a platform that could help brands and retailers avoid off-sales, violations and fines, as well as support visibility into compliance status. A few years later, one of Global Registration Services’ bedding and furniture clients crossed over into the pet treat space and approached Wisner about getting help with filing licenses and validating labels.

“That’s how Pet Food Compliance got its first client,” Wisner shared.

Today, the company provides a one-stop-shop for product registration, license renewals, tonnage reporting, and packaging and label auditing. Pet Food Compliance takes a relationship-based approach to understand how to best meet the needs of each of its customers.

“We offer a one-to-many relationship — clients can give us product information one way in one system, and we will make sure that translates to all the different ways states ask for it,” Wisner explained. “That way, companies don’t have to manage any errors or inconsistencies.”

According to Wisner, the Pet Food Compliance team also offers combined experience in manufacturing, compliance and marketing, allowing the firm to serve as a consultant of sorts to make recommendations — sometimes even connecting brands with other service providers in the industry to better meet their needs.

Pet Food Compliance offers a full suite of services from label auditing to business strategy consulting

Pet Food Compliance goes beyond pet food product registration and label auditing to provide clients with reporting data, business consulting and retailer visibility.

| Source: Pet Food Compliance

Following a free consultation to go over these details, Pet Food Compliance jumps right in to facilitate new product registration and acquire licenses for the client. This process usually involves at least one label audit, Wisner shared.

“No one’s labels are perfect, and even though we have AAFCO, states still have conflicting requirements — there’s a lot to consider,” he said. “We do our best to help companies by requiring at least one label audit to demonstrate to them any opportunity for improvements.”

For companies making their first forays into the pet nutrition space, Pet Food Compliance also offers launch strategy consulting and helps brands understand what compliance costs would be associated with the introduction of a new product or portfolio.

“Thereafter, it’s mostly about renewing licenses, adding and removing products as they are launched or discontinued, and maintaining licenses and product listings,” Wisner said. “We provide support with all of that, as well as collecting sales information depending on product time.”


Common compliance mistakes

In speaking about compliance, Wisner noted a few regular pitfalls pet nutrition brands encounter when registering and renewing their products on a state-by-state basis. Many of these challenges are due to the fact that each state has its own preferences and procedures for collecting, filing and maintaining product and label information.

“Every state has its own fee structure, renewal dates, and preferred methods of communication,” Wisner explained. “Some states are working on paper, while others still want a floppy disk. They also classify products differently — what may be considered a supplement in one state could be considered a treat in another. I know people are generally confused between those two categories, but companies must factor in those subtle nuances to avoid spending too much money or making mistakes along the way.”

In Georgia and Iowa, the laws for distributing commercial feed — including pet food — state, “The term ‘dehydrated’ may precede the name of any ingredient in the ingredient list that has been artificially dried.” However, this provision is absent in Colorado’s rules and regulations, as one example.

This creates a common challenge of confusion in which brands don’t understand what needs to be registered and which information must go on the label. Is the name of the guarantor going on the label, or will it be the name of the co-manufacturer who produces the product? According to Wisner, getting that relationship correct on packaging and ensuring the product is licensed correctly afterward is a common hurdle.

Substantiating claims is another crucial consideration for pet nutrition brands when it comes to compliance.

“States are very aware that commerce is happening online and, more often than not, double-checking labeling claims that a brand makes on its website, in addition to the actual label,” said Deven Wisner, Pet Food Compliance.

“Claims around ingredients — people providing the word on their product packaging, and I get it, some of it is a marketing game, but you really need to be able to substantiate the claims you’re making,” Wisner added. “The states are looking at each one of these labels, and having unsubstantiated claims can get the product pulled or stickered over, which is a lot more expensive than a preemptive label audit.”

The rise of e-commerce has created another regulatory hurdle, as many brands don’t realize the need to register products in all 50 states to which they distribute. This is particularly true of early-stage brands, Mom-and-Pops and crossover companies who have jumped to play in the direct-to-consumer pet care space, but may lack the regulatory and operational know-how to correctly license products and meet differing label requirements across the country.

“States are very aware that commerce is happening online and, more often than not, double-checking labeling claims that a brand makes on its website, in addition to the actual label,” Wisner said. “In theory, if they’re selling products online, they should be registered everywhere.”

Additionally, compliance is not a popularity contest. It’s easy for brands to look across the category, see something another brand is doing on their label, and try to copy it to their advantage.

“Just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean it’s the right — or compliant — thing to do,” Wisner advised.


Retailer visibility

Another one of Pet Food Compliance’s unique offerings is its PAW Program — the Pet Food Compliance Automation Wizard — which gives retailers visibility into compliance documentation, tonnage reports and sales data for each of its pet product vendors.

Retail visibility is another tool offered by Pet Food Compliance through its PAW Program

Pet Food Compliance's PAW Program centralizes licensing, labeling, packaging and tonnage data from brands and centralizes it into a streamlined database to give retailers more visibility over their vendors' compliance documents.

| Source: Pet Food Compliance

“Our PAW Program was developed with significant input from one of our major retail partners to give them visibility into their vendors’ licensing and packaging, as well as tonnage,” Wisner explained. “Retailers are put in a position to track all this data, since it’s on their shelves and websites, but a lot of them are still operating via email and spreadsheets. This becomes a burden when you’re talking about keeping track of licenses for hundreds of products across 50 states.”

Essentially, the PAW Program centralizes all this data for retailers in an effort to streamline the process and save time. Such data has become particularly tricky to keep track of with the rise of e-commerce sales, so having a consolidated resource to store and reference these metrics is a godsend for retailers.

“Our PAW Program serves three purposes — firstly, it’s connected to our backend. This is both efficient and effective, as retailers can access all the information they could possibly need, and in ways that each state would need it,” Wisner noted. “The second is it serves as an interface for all our partners — it could be manufacturers putting their information into the system, it could be guarantors — which gives retailers ongoing visibility about whether brands are adding new products or discontinuing products. They also want to see when we last submitted something for the brand, and all of that information becomes available to them.”


The future of compliance

Over the last 12 months, two major announcements have been made that are poised to redefine the way pet food is regulated in the United States — pet food label modernization (PFLM) and the Pet Food Uniform Regulatory Reform Act of 2024, also known as the PURR Act.

In July 2023, AAFCO membership voted to approve new guidelines for dog and cat food labeling under the PFLM initiative. In February 2024, a bipartisan cohort of Congress members introduced the PURR Act, which proposes to give the FDA regulatory authority over the labeling and ingredient review process for dog and cat food and treats.

While the jury is still out regarding the PURR Act, new label guidelines from AAFCO will be implemented eventually. The association has advocated for a six-year grace period to allow brands ample time to adopt the new guidelines and make the necessary changes. Wisner recommended pet food companies take a hurry-up-and-wait approach, as it is still unclear how exactly these new guidelines will unfold, including which states will adopt them in full.

“As we’ve seen labeling modifications happen across other industries, the challenge oftentimes is the disconnect between regulatory professionals and organizations advocating one way and the industry in another,” Wisner noted. “I still see a lot of gray area, so as opposed to being too proactive, we’re waiting to see what happens when the dust settles.

“There’s nothing more painful than going through the process of updating, paying for and implementing new changes like this, and then something shifts and the changes don’t play to your advantage anymore,” he added.

Regardless of where the other shoe drops in terms of both PFLM and the PURR Act, Pet Food Compliance has its finger on the pulse of these developments so it can better serve industry members as the compliance landscape evolves.

Read more about pet food and treat processing on our Operations page.