Because the NOP has not yet adopted the task force recommendations, organic pet foods are in regulatory limbo, leaving AAFCO with the unenviable task of explaining how to label “organic” pet foods. AAFCO says that (1) under NOP rules, pet foods may not display the USDA organic seal or claim that they were produced according to organic standards. But (2), NOP also says labeling terms such as “100% organic,” “organic” or “made with organic ingredients” on pet foods may be truthful and do not imply organic production or certification. Therefore (3), AAFCO recommends that labeling rules for human foods apply to pet foods.
What to make of this? We think the statements imply that nobody is going to make a fuss about organic claims on pet foods, even when some, most or even all of their ingredients are not really organic.
Mind you, following the rules for organic labeling is complicated (see chart). Even so, you can go into a pet food store and easily find products that violate these standards. Our favorite: companies calling themselves organic when their foods do not contain a single organic ingredient. They get away with this because the USDA, unlike the FDA, doesn’t regulate company names.
At the moment, “organic” means something for human food; it does not mean much for pet food. We worry that the USDA doesn’t think pet foods are important enough to care what is said on their labels. This may be a good situation for unscrupulous marketers, but we do not think it is good for pet food companies, buyers of pet foods or the organic industry itself. If products are labeled organic, they should follow the rules for organic certification—all of them. If they do not, the organic standards won’t mean much.
Organic foods command higher prices because people believe in the integrity of the standards. If the standards are not met, why pay more? If the USDA allows weaker standards for pet foods, we wonder whether it will continue to defend strong organic standards for human foods. Without strong standards, organics are just about marketing, not production methods. We think everyone—pet food makers, the USDA, AAFCO and the readers of Bark—should demand nothing less than the highest possible standards for natural, human-grade and organic claims on dog foods.