Certified Organic Pet Foods are the Only Organic Pet Foods That are Regulated by the USDA
The pet food market is flooded with all kinds of organic claims. However, only a few of these claims have been substantiated by a third party. Only USDA certified organic pet foods provide the assurance of strict regulation, verification, and legal enforcement to support their status as truly organic. Organic claims made without USDA certification are not subject to any kind of regulation. Such claims are based solely on the manufacturer's word and, as such, may or may not be true. So, as you might guess, abuse of the term 'organic' is unfortunately quite common in the pet food industry.
What you might not realize is that USDA certified organic pet foods are currently subject to the same regulations which apply to organic foods for human consumption. All the ingredient choices and manufacturing processes involved in the production of USDA certified organic pet foods must therefore comply with the National Organic Program (NOP) standards established by the USDA. USDA certified organic pet foods must contain at least 95% organic ingredients and all ingredients must be fully traceable from their sources to specific production batches. Furthermore, NOP standards prohibit the use of conventional ingredients if organic versions are available; exceptions are made in cases where certain organic ingredients aren't available and the only options are conventional varieties (e.g., calcium carbonate and fish). NOP standards also prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). If a conventional, or non-certified organic, ingredient, such as citric acid, is used, a non-GMO certificate must be provided by the organic producer. As well, NOP standards prohibit the use of ingredients which were treated with antibiotics or hormones, as well as the inclusion of potentially toxic synthetics, such as artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, in certified organic pet foods.
Finally, NOP standards prohibit the use of potentially or known toxic chemicals during the manufacturing or storage of USDA certified organic pet foods. For example, highly toxic sanitizers cannot be used on food preparation surfaces, and neither ingredients nor the final pet food products can be fumigated with pesticides. Only pesticides and sanitizers that are known to be safe are allowed in the manufacturing facilities or storage areas of companies that produce certified organic pet foods.
Documentation for all ingredients used in the manufacture of USDA certified organic pet foods must be provided in the form of a current organic certificate for each ingredient.
USDA organic certification of pet foods mandates compliance with all USDA NOP regulations and requires, at minimum, an annual inspection of the manufacturing facility by a USDA-accredited organic certifying agency. All books and records concerning ingredients, food handling plans within the facility, and final products must be available for inspection by the USDA or its accredited certifiers; records for any given production run must be retained for possible inspection for several years.
USDA certified organic pet food products must disclose the name of the organic certifying agency and mostly also display the USDA organic seal. The organic certificate for each USDA certified organic product should be made freely available by the manufacturer to any customer requesting it.
A final thought: organic claims other than those made under the assurance of USDA certification are often used by pet food manufacturers to increase their sales. Even if manufacturers claim to use organic ingredients that are free of hormones, antibiotics, or GMOs, such claims are not verified by an unbiased party and, most importantly of all, cannot be verified by you, the consumer.
As one State compliance officer at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently noted, "... It is buyer beware of any pet food product that does not show that it is certified by one of the NOP certification agents".
Copyright C 2008 by Heidi Junger - All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Heidi Junger is a Ph.D. zoologist, who recently started her own organic pet food manufacturing company in San Diego, California. Please visit http://www.onestaorganics.com for more information.