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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

What is AAFCO and What Does it Do?

April 20, 2012 / (4) comments

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ve heard me refer to AAFCO on multiple occasions. I thought it might be a good idea to talk a bit about what this organization does and who is involved.


The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state, and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds (including dog and cat foods) and animal drug remedies. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food and feed ingredients, as well as sets standards for nutritional adequacy.


Did you catch the word at the end of the last paragraph? "Adequacy." It is important to remember that AAFCO regulations deal with the maximum and/or minimum levels of only the nutrients that AAFCO deems essential to a pet’s health.


For example, AAFCO requires that an adult dog food must contain at least 18 percent protein if the manufacturer is going to call it complete and balanced — or words to that effect. If you find an AAFCO statement on a dog food label (e.g., "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand A adult dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dog."), you can be confident that it contains at least 18 percent protein. But this does not mean that 18 percent protein is an ideal amount for dogs; in fact, levels closer to 25 percent are oftentimes better. Anything less than 18 percent could actually make a dog sick, and AAFCO ensures that this minimum standard is met in foods that have been given its stamp of approval.


Also, keep in mind that AAFCO doesn’t concern itself with the concentration of every aspect of canine nutrition. The levels of some very important nutrients, such as omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, are completely left to the discretion of the manufacturer.


As a private organization AAFCO has no regulatory authority, but does work to protect consumers, safeguard the health of animals and people, and ensure that pet food manufacturers compete for your business on a level playing field. While the standards they develop are not laws, some states in America have adopted these regulations into law in order to further protect pets and consumers.


As a pet owner, you need to be familiar with what AAFCO does and does not do so that you can make informed choices when picking out a dog food. Purchasing only AAFCO-approved diets is certainly a good place to start, but the highest quality foods go above and beyond providing "adequate" nutrition. Ultimately, optimum nutrition is what we’re all really looking for.




Dr. Jennifer Coates



Image: Shutterstock

Comments  4

Leave Comment
    04/20/2012 11:32am

    Does AAFCO conduct their own feeding tests or do they rely on statistics from manufacturers?

    "The levels of some very important nutrients, such as omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, are completely left to the discretion of the manufacturer."

    This part concerns me because it seems to indicate that AAFCO doesn't ensure a "complete and balanced" food.

  • 04/25/2012 02:48am

    Manufacturers are responsible for their own feeding trials that must be performed in accoardance with AAFCO guidelines.

  • some corrections
    04/22/2012 04:36pm

    AAFCO actually stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are not a regulatory body, and they do not enforce any guidelines or laws, and they do NOT approve foods.

    Their function is to provide model feed laws, which some states then adopt, either in whole or in part, as their state feed control laws. The states, and for some things, the federal government, are then charged with monitoring and enforcement.

    Enough states have adopted AAFCO's model feed control laws to the effect that foods sold across state lines must comply with AAFCO. Feeds only sold within the state they are made must comply with that states laws, which may or may not be AAFCO.

    It is up to the manufacturers to ensure they meet AAFCO standards for nutritional adequacy, and they need to state which method they used to determine this, so all pet food not sold as a treat/snack must have one of the 3 allowed Nutritional Adequacy Statements on the label: 1- 'formulated to meet AAFCO profiles' (meets the levels of nutrients when calculated based on the ingredients), 2- 'animal feeding tests' (animals in the specific life stage the diet is designed for were fed the diet in a test- the details are established by AAFCO) or 3- 'for intermittent or supplemental feeding only' (neither of these were done or the diet failed)

    AAFCO does not approve diets or the procedures used to determine adequacy, so there is no 'stamp of approval.' State feed control officials can request the documentation though- this is their jurisdiction as a regulatory function.

  • 06/11/2012 01:10pm

    "It is important to remember that AAFCO regulations deal with the maximum and/or minimum levels of only the nutrients that AAFCO deems essential to a pet’s health."

    So I guess a ratio of 2:1 Ca:P is unimportant in cat food? AAFCO has NO maximum on calcium in cat food.

    AFAIC, AAFCO is trying to keep pet food companies happy using the barest of minimums.

    Pet food trials can consist of only 8 critters and last 6 months. I don't even know if I'd call that adequate.