Every year the when the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) publishes its new Official Publication (OP), a handbook which contains the terms used in pet food, consumers wonder why it is so darned expensive. And why should they even have to pay for information they believe should be public?
The reality is, the OP, like most books, are copyrighted. And, like it or not, some books are expensive. What does this mean for the average consumer? If they want to know what those ingredient definitions are, they have fork over a staggering $110 for a copy of the book.
But I’ve figured out some creative ways of getting around that ridiculously expensive option. While not ideal, I offer a few alternatives that consumers may not have realized are open to them.
Here’s the first option: You can get a copy of AAFCO’s Official Publication at your local library.
Yup. That’s right. Anyone with a good old-fashioned library card can request the latest edition of the OP for free. While it’s doubtful your local library will have a copy of it; your librarian will probably have to do what’s called an Interlibrary Loan (ILL). An ILL is for local libraries to reserve a copy of a book that not in their stacks.
Handy tip number two: Did you know that you can make a copy of the part of the OP you want to take home with you for future reference? Yes, you can! In fact, any consumer wishing to make photocopies of the Official Publication can do so legally under what’s called the fair use law.
Fair use allows people to use copyrighted material without the author’s permission if you’re using it for research. It should be noted that although fair use may give you a one-time pass to photocopy the chapter for tonight’s reading, it doesn’t allow you to photocopy the entire book and distribute copies to your friends.
When the book gets to your library, because the book will probably considered reference material, you can use the library’s copy machine to make copies of the pages you want to keep.
Handy hint number three: Get to know your local feed control official.
If requesting a copy of the Official Publication through your library seems like too much of a pain, you can always bug your local animal feed control official for the answer to a particular question or concern you have. After all, it’s their job to know the feed ingredients inside and out.
I know you’re probably not anxious to bother your local feed control official, but you’ll be glad you did because they are there to help you and they are likely your best source of information about the pet food sold in your state.
To find out who your state feed control official is and how to reach them with this handy directory at AAFCO.
Somewhat useful tip number four: Buy a two-week trial of the book.
If you’re like most people, you don’t have $110 burning a hole in your pocket; one option is to spring for a 14-day trial of the online copy of the AAFCO Official Publication for $20. And there’s a little known, but enormous, bonus to buying the online getting access to the book: You will have unprecedented access to the AAFCO’s Feed Basic Information Network (BIN).
For died-in-the-wool pet food regulatory nuts (like myself), unrestricted access to the Feed BIN might seem like a goldmine, but most consumers would probably find the reference documents, news, committee information, and team communications that typically only AAFCO members and consumer advisors have access to a big fat snore.
Sad tip number five: Scout around the internet for a second-hand edition.
You can buy a second-hand copy of the OP on Amazon or eBay. Some editions are for sale for as little as $3.50. Granted, they are not the very latest editions, but a copy that’s a couple of years old will get you by in a pinch.
Why are the options so lousy? From a consumer standpoint, there is the perceived denial of what consumers believe they should free public access to. Therefore, consumers wonder why they have to get the information in an expensive book in the first place? Without boring you with the entire history feed regulation in this country, I’ll try to distill the problem down to the most salient points.
Primarily, the federal government, instead of making its own definitions or standards of feed ingredients, has relied on AAFCO’s ingredient definitions process for many years. And as AAFCO’s OP grew, it now contains a complete list of ingredients allowed in feed today.
One of the most problematic alliances is that the FDA consistently refers to the AAFCO Official Publication – which is a non-Federal document that “does not have the force and effect of law,” a reliance that FDA’s legal council has advised them to discontinue.
Another problem with AAFCO’s OP is that hundreds of the 900-plus ingredients in the book currently lack federal standing, even if they have been approved by state legislatures. Even though FDA has acknowledged the problem and a desire to phase out the AAFCO definition process, the enormous job involves reexamining the 500+ ingredients in the OP that live in that regulatory limbo, will take years.
What does this mean to consumers? Until the whole problem is solved – which will undoubtedly will take many more years to unravel – the OP is still the best source we have of finding out what the definitions of pet food ingredients are.
Despite the imperfection of the regulatory system, it is one I feel honored and privileged to be a part of. As an advisor to AAFCO, I have been given a forum for consumer’s questions, concerns and wishes to be heard. I hope that I can continue to offer solutions until the system is perfected. Until that day arrives, I will probably be cheerfully slaving away at this job for many years to come.
STAY SAFE & INFORMED
Don’t forget the best way to stay safe and informed about everything pet food is to subscribe to my Poisoned Pets newsletter or RSS news feed. And don’t forget to follow me, Mollie Morrissette, on Facebook & like my Facebook page on Poisoned Pets. You’ll be glad you did, and your pets will love you for it! Oh, and be sure to write me if you have any questions or concerns about a food you are feeding your pet. I’m happy to help! ♥