Have you ever been frustrated while trying to read the label on your pet’s food? You may have noticed the AAFCO label printed on your pet’s food bag, but most people do not know why it is significant.

Unfortunately, pet food labels do not look the same as our own food products. Choosing the right food for your pet can be difficult due to the high number of options and lack of information, but the following sections may make this process easier.

Pet foods and drugs require similar regulations as those surrounding human food manufacturing, sales, and distribution. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of regulating safe practices for pet consumables, so who is the AAFCO and what are they responsible for?

What is the AAFCO

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to regulate safe practices in the pet and animal food industry. Membership includes government officials who are able to regulate how animal consumables are sold.

Concerned with the nutritional value of animal feed and pet food, the AAFCO began over a century ago. The organization was concerned that pet food lacked the proper nutritional value and has worked since its birth to improve quality standards.

While they have no real power to create legal regulations, their membership includes powerful individuals or organizations, most of which are part of the government, that can work together to create change.

Organization Membership

Members of the organization are mostly local, state, and federal government officials whose work concerns animals, food, and other related industries. The FDA holds responsibility for regulating animal feed, and they maintain membership with the AAFCO.

The benefit of having an influential group of members is that ideas for change can be passed to relevant leaders. For example, in order to ban a toxic ingredient commonly included in pet food or to ban unsafe manufacturing practices, the AAFCO must lobby the right government agency: the FDA. Since the FDA is a member of the AAFCO, this idea can be discussed with relative ease.

Not just anyone can become a member. It is exclusive to government agencies and officials. Simply put, the AAFCO exists to allow otherwise distinct organizations to work closely together over a mutual goal: influencing regulations for safer industry practices and nutritious animal feed.

AAFCO Labeling

The Association of American Feed Control Officials allows a statement to be printed near the ingredients list and nutritional label only if certain guidelines are met. The label is generally only one sentence and states that a particular food meets the health and nutrition guidelines set forth by the AAFCO.

If you want to check to see if your pet’s food is AAFCO approved, look near the nutrition label for the short statement. Because it is not required by law, some budget brands may not be considered a balanced diet per the AAFCO. Only fully balanced pet foods and animal feeds can have the label.

The AAFCO statement printed on the label of your pet’s food is intended to increase the trust you have in that food. It certifies that it meets higher standards than what is required by law. If your pet’s food has this label, you can rest a little easier.

Dietary Guidelines

The AAFCO is concerned with whether the caloric intake listed in a serving of animal feed or pet food is appropriate for the intended animal. Guidelines are designed to be in the best interest of your pet, so a diet of high-calorie dog food aimed at overweight canines will likely not meet their expectations. Companies must also show that the nutritional analysis provided to consumers is accurate and beneficial.

Of course, ingredients are also a priority. All ingredients must be accurately listed and must not be toxic to the animal. This seems as though it should be a given, but many pet food brands have recently experienced recalls and intense criticism for their lack of transparency and for causing negative health concerns in pets.

Additionally, animal feed and pet food packaging must provide clear directions. Cat food must state the recommended daily portion size for felines in listed weight brackets. The directions must also be properly recommended for a healthy lifestyle. For example, manufacturers cannot recommend the same portion sizes for cats as for dogs.

The AAFCO does not only concern nutrition in animal food but also some safety and manufacturing practices associated with it. Products must be accurately labeled with the brand name, product type, and intended use. Consumers deserve to be properly informed about the product they select.

How Are AAFCO Guidelines Established

Like any reputable organization, the AAFCO relies on scientific data retrieved from detailed studies to reach conclusions. They test the benefits of feeding animals certain ingredients as part of a regular diet. The organization understands that conducting such testing aids in understanding how certain diets affect animals in different lifestyles or age groups.

While AAFCO tests are not the only reliable source of information, nor do they provide a full range of data, they can be extremely useful. They also refer to outside studies for information.

The AAFCO website includes a tab titled Laboratory which provides links to useful information and studies. The listed information is transparent and detailed. They even provide a publication.

While some criticism is warranted, all organizations have room for growth. The methods and studies used by the AAFCO are regarded as generally beneficial and trustworthy.

Common Questions

Is the AAFCO a government agency?

No. The Association of American Feed Control Officials is made up of many official agencies like the FDA but is not itself controlled by the government. It works closely with the FDA to create higher standards and influence future regulations.

If it is a non-profit, how do they make money to operate?

As a non-profit, the AAFCO receives money from the government, donations, and selling their label requirements. For more information, nonprofits are required to disclose their earnings to the public.

Does the lack of an AAFCO label mean that my pet’s food is unhealthy?

Not necessarily. The AAFCO does not provide a firm standard about what ingredients must be included, it mostly provides guidelines regarding transparency. Your pet’s food may be just as healthy or even healthier than foods that contain the label.

So, AAFCO labels are not law?

No. The AAFCO does not have any official power to create laws. They work by setting a higher standard that consumers have come to trust. Like other large private organizations, they may also put pressure on government agencies to create new policies in support of their objectives.

What constitutes pet food and animal feed?

Pet food refers to the food you feed your pet on a daily basis. Treats and supplements are not included as they are not judged by the same nutritional standards and are not required as part of a balanced diet. Animal feed is also a regular diet, but for other types of animals, like livestock. Horses, cows, chickens, etc, all need to consume a nutritious diet to thrive.


It is not easy to pick the right food for your pet or livestock, but the AAFCO labels can help. Still, pet foods are not required to follow the same rules as human foods. This means that the information you are used to seeing on nutritional labels is often not present.

Because the AAFCO is made up of experts and government officials, they are able to make informed decisions about pet food and animal feed nutrition. They provide useful information based on data from reliable studies. These qualifications are reasons you should look for the AAFCO label.

Guidelines are stricter than what the FDA alone requires pet food manufacturers to meet. Reputable companies work harder to meet these guidelines so that the public will trust their products, but that does not mean you should not do your research.

Each animal has unique needs based on health and lifestyle, so choose a food that is right for your pet. Additional research and advice from your pet can aid in the search for the best diet. Look out for the AFFCO statement, which simply means that your pet’s food has met more stringent guidelines and is nutritionally complete.