Pets, insects and food regulation

England and Wales

Several leading brands have announced new recipe foods including the launch of the first 100% insect-based cat food formula. At the end of 2020, head of Purina Europe, Bernard Meunier, stated "we see increasing demand for persified sources of proteins for pet food products". In a blog post, the British Veterinary Association endorsed insect-based pet food, reporting that it may be better for pets than prime steak. In April 2021, startup Aardvark launched pet food using black soldier flies mixed with seaweed as a non-meat solution to pet protein.

The increased prevalence of insect-based pet food reflects a similar trend in new product development for human foods, driven primarily by sustainability. It is reported that conventional pet food accounts for 20% of all meat and fish produced. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the climate change and brands are alive to the fact that this is often reflected in purchasing decisions. In this respect, it is worth noting that the European Commission voted in favour of granting “novel food” status to an insect-based food for the first time on 3 May 2021.

However, ensuring both safety and quality in novel and innovative pet food production is vital. For human food, high standards are maintained through food legislation, primarily through the retained EU Regulation 178/2002 (the "General Food Safety Regulation") together with guidance from, for example, The International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (“IPIFF”) which sets standards for insect food products. It is well known that selling food that is not fit for human consumption is a criminal offence. Perhaps not so well known is that it is not just human food that it is highly regulated. The value placed on our pets' lives are such that the General Food Safety Regulation applies to both human and animal foods, and so food for pets is also subject to regulatory scrutiny. The Food Standards Agency ("FSA") regulates food for humans and for pets. A recent FSA product recall citing the risk to both humans and pets from salmonella in raw pet food is a timely reminder of the dual responsibility of the regulator.

Retained EU Regulation 183/2005 sets out operating standards to which all pet food manufacturers must comply. It lays down requirements for food hygiene and requires that safety and hygiene be considered at all stages of production.

There are also specific rules for pet food packaging, for example, to ensure effective sterilization and avoid leakage. It is also worth bearing in mind that sustainability and recycling rules that apply to human food packaging apply in the same way to pet food packaging – there is no distinction between the two once the packaging becomes waste.

Similarly, since pets are as vulnerable to allergens, additives etc. as their owners, the importance of accurate labelling and composition is reflected by detailed sets of regulations that apply in both the human and pet food categories. Just as in the human food sector, best practice guidance supports the basic legislation.

As with human food, there is an EU list of the restrictions on claims that can be made for pet foods, for example “for the regulation of glucose supply and support of skin function dermatosis”, preventing “excessive hair loss” and more familiar claims such as organic. Just as with the human food regime, the claims made for pet food must not be misleading or omit relevant details.

The potential for both human and pet food to be produced at the same site is reflected by guidance issued in December 2020. If pet food is made from products of non-animal origin, additional approvals are required.

Comment

Consumers purchasing food for their beloved pets are increasingly looking for pet food based on quality and health, with characteristics that reflect their own food interests or wider concerns regarding sustainability. With increasing food choices and lifestyles available to us, brands are identifying that consumers who choose such lifestyles or diets are likely to be interested in the same options for their pets. Innovation aside, manufacturers and suppliers must remain focused on compliance with the legislation, which is just as stringent whether for humans or our “furry friends”.