Senate inquiry demands tougher pet food rules in Australia

In June, the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee set up an inquiry following several cases where dogs became ill from eating pet food.

The pet food industry is currently self-regulated. The Australian Standards for manufacturing and marketing pet food are voluntary and are published behind a payment wall.

Read more: Is your dog happy? Ten common misconceptions about dog behaviour

There is no mandatory recall system for pet food and no mechanism for consumers to report adverse events. Essentially, there is minimal government oversight of this industry. This makes it hard for pet owners to be confident the food they feed their beloved pets is both safe and nutritious.

The Senate report includes seven recommendations, including:

The inquiry examined more than 150 submissions from veterinarians and animal welfare groups such as RSPCA. It also included industry groups and individuals. The examination also had two public hearing days. The majority of these submissions and presentations called for change.

Sick dogs prompt food recall.

The public’s outcry over the recall of Advanced Dermocare was the catalyst for this inquiry. In March of this year, the product was recalled after some dogs suffered from life-threatening oesophageal weaknesses (megaoesophagus).

After being informed of the clusters of sick dogs, the pet food producer took three months before announcing the recall.

There are no laws in Australia that force pet food manufacturers to recall their products if they make pets sick.

There is a system known as PetFAST. This is a voluntary recall between the Australian Veterinary Association ( PFIAA) and the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia.

PetFAST was developed after two incidents from 2007 to 2009. These incidents resulted in dozens of dogs and cats being ill or dying. Irradiated Cat Food imported to Canada caused paralysis, and Imported Chicken-jerky Treats from China caused kidney toxicity.

There were no recall mechanisms in place at the time. Recent recalls have been made of dog and cat food using the PetFAST system. It’s not perfect.

Pet food manufacturers are responsible for investigating and recalling products if necessary. It is up to veterinarians to identify a possible connection between a disease and pet food. Consumers cannot use it to report incidents of safety; only veterinarians can.

There are laws that restrict what a manufacturer of pet food can claim and cannot claim. Restrictions also apply to the importation and sale of pet food.

However, standards for pet food safety and nutrition are not mandatory. This lack of transparency and consumer trust is exacerbated by the absence of independent industry oversight.

We’ve seen this before

The Senate report released this week is not the first to demand improvements in the pet-food industry.

2009 saw the formation of a government working group on pet food regulations in response to pet food safety incidents, including irradiated chicken-jerky and cat food.

The federal government has set up a new working group to regulate pet food, preempting the Senate report. The original working group made some improvements, including the petFAST recall system, and voluntary standards. However, we need to take definitive action now.

In Australia, the pet food industry has an annual revenue of over A$4 Billion. Pet owners want food that is safe and nutritious.

Submissions to the inquiry by the main Australian manufacturers, as well as the industry body PFIAA, shows that increased regulation and mandatory standard are likely to support if recommended to the government.

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