Understanding Pet Food Labels
Pet Food Labelling
Label requirements under AS5812
The labelling guidance in AS 5812 has been developed to reflect and align with other existing global standards such as those in Europe and the US and help companies comply with Australian consumer law. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has a central role in promoting competition and ensuring fair trading. The ACCC was informed about the development of the Standard and reviewed the PFIAA Code of Practice, which pre-dated the Standard and served as the basis for the subsequent development of AS5812.
Identification as pet food
The words “PET FOOD ONLY” (or words to similar effect) is to appear conspicuously on the label (or printed onto the end of a can) and an illustration of the whole body or head animal species for which it is intended (e.g. a dog or cat) is also to be included on the label.
Nutrition information panel
A statement of either guaranteed or typical (average) composition, in regards to protein and fat is required to be included on labels. Labels may also include information about energy content and other nutrient levels in the food.
Variety and Names
AS 5812 states: ‘The variety name of a pet food shall be informative and an accurate description of the style and flavour.’ The Standard includes detailed guidance to assist both manufacturers and consumers in regards to content and variety names of pet foods. For instance with regards to variety naming of canned pet foods, section 3.1.3 states: ‘If a meat ingredient constitutes 25% or more of the meat component and is the main meal ingredients then that meat may be referred to as the variety name of the product’.
Example: Where beef is the main meat ingredient in a product and is present at more than 25% then that variety can be named ‘beef’.
It is important to realise that these “rules” concerning names are provided in AS5812 to define minimum conditions that must be met. For instance, in the above example, the canned ‘beef’ variety pet food may include a much higher beef content than in the example above.
Nutritional adequacy statement
Information as to whether the product provides a complete and balanced diet for their pet at a particular life stage, or whether it is intended to be fed with other foods for nutritional completeness (e.g as a treat or complimentary food) is required. The nutritional recommendations of a globally recognised USA body – the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) are used as reference by AS5812 with regards to nutritional adequacy. These AAFCO nutrient profiles for dogs and cats are regularly reviewed and updated, reflecting new scientific studies in assessing the nutritional needs of pets. Scientifically validated feeding protocols have also been developed by AAFCO to assess the nutritional adequacy of pet food products for a particular species and life stage.
Directions for use (Feeding guide)
Labels provide directions for feeding the food to pets. It should be recognised that these are only a guide and individual pets may require more or less food than recommended, depending on their metabolism, lifestyle and lifestage. The pet owner is usually best placed to determine how much and how often to feed their pet, using the pet’s demeanour, body condition and general health to guide them. If in doubt, please consult your veterinarian.
Pet food labels with a longer shelf life (e.g 2 years +) shall include a packaging date. In the case of shorter shelf life products such as those requiring refrigeration this date labelling will include either a ‘best before’ statement or a ‘use by date’. It is important to follow any specified product storage conditions to ensure product integrity and safety.
The Standard advises that pet food labels list the ingredients (with the exception of water) in descending order (by weight) and states: “Ingredients will be presented in an informative and consumer friendly manner”. It is also required to provide pet owners with information concerning what species of animal meats (e.g poultry, beef, fish) are included. A further requirement is that the statement of ingredients shall list food additives, including advising if flavours, colours, preservatives, vitamins and minerals are added. The Standard specifically requires that where preservatives such as sulphur dioxide or sulphites are included these shall be identified on the label, by inclusion of their common, prescribed, proprietary name or the FSANZ Food Standards code number.
General consumer information
In common with many other packaged foods sold in Australia, prepared pet foods labels provide further useful and important information to help pet owners.
Pet foods often include product features and these are required to be consistent with Australian consumer law. Reflecting this, the Standard advises that “labelling should not directly or indirectly mislead or misrepresent the product to the purchaser”.
Manufacturer’s generally ensure that their brand name appears in a prominent position on the pet food label. The words, pictures, logos and colour schemes which define the product may be registered as trademarks for exclusive use.
Name and address
The name and address of the company responsible for the product must appear on the label.
Weights and measures
The net weight of the product is to be included on the label.
Bar coding information
Bar coding is an international system of product identification, and all pet food products sold through the major retail outlets in Australia carry bar codes.The bar code is a series of numbers represented by the width and spacing between the bars.The bar code provides information on the country of the manufacturer, the manufacturer’s identity and product identification, plus a check digit for bar code validation.
A badge of honour, a sign of integrity
Pet owners are now provided with considerable information on pet food packaging to help them decide which foods are appropriate for their pet dog or cat. The development of Australian Standard 5812 and the widespread adoption of the Standard by PFIAA members means that all Australian pet owners can have confidence on the extensive information provided on-label. It means even more peace of mind when choosing your pet’s meals.