At a time when many people are more aware of food origins and handling protocols, horse and pet owners are asking themselves “are my supplements safe?”
In 2007 American pet owners were horrified to discover the pet food they had been giving their dogs and cats was contaminated with an industrial chemical called Melamine
How can an industrial chemical get into pet food?
Melamine, a chemical found in plastics, glues and fertilizers, is a tasteless white powder, two-thirds of which is Nitrogen. When Melamine is added to feed protein sources such as wheat, maize or rice gluten, it increases the nitrogen levels, which in turn produces a falsely high protein level when the feed is tested.
You may say, “That’s not a problem, I only feed my animals the more expensive brands of pet food, not the cheaper value brands; the food is bound to be safe!” Sorry to disillusion you, but some of the most expensive and “respected” foods, including those available only through vets, were found to contain binding agents such as wheat gluten from China.
As a result of the contamination by melamine and cyanuric acid, thousands of dogs and cats in the USA fell ill, and it is conservatively estimated over 1500 animals died as a direct result of the contamination. The FDA reported more than 8,500 calls relating to contaminated pet food. Autopsy reports of animals that died showed these cats and dogs had died from kidney failure. Melamine builds up in the kidneys like kidney stones and the animals cannot pass them.
In light of this episode, how can we be confident that the supplements we feed our animals and pets are “fit for purpose”?
Back in 2002 a group of American horse and pet supplement manufacturers formed an association to help set up a dialogue with US government bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Association of Animal Feed Control Officials? (AAFCO) because their businesses were threatened by complicated and erratic regulations being enforced by these government agencies.
The association is the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), formed to “improve and standardize the animal health supplement industry.” To this end the NASC introduced its Quality Seal Program, whereby member companies are required to undergo a full facility audit to ensure the company complies with a set of rigorous standards for Quality Control, Adverse Event Reporting and product labeling (including warning and cautionary statements recommended by the FDA’s veterinary medicines center and the NASC’s own Scientific Advisory Committee).
Only NASC member companies who have successfully passed the organization’s audit are permitted to display the NASC Quality Seal badge on their product labels. The NASC boasts a membership of 100 companies representing over 90% of America’s animal supplements industry with members from the US, the UK and Canada.
ADVERSE EVENT REPORTING
In 2007, during the melamine scandal, the NASC’s National Adverse Event Reporting System (NAERS) was put to the test when a nationwide pet food product recall was instigated by the FDA.
Bill Bookout, NASC president, was contacted by the AAFCO officials to find out whether any NASC members’ products contained wheat gluten. Bookout typed the word “wheat” into the database and was immediately rewarded with a list of NASC members whose products included wheat in any form. He was then able to reply within minutes of the request. Readers will be happy to hear that Wheat Gluten did not show up in any member products.
What if you buy supplements manufactured outside the US?
In Europe supplements are governed by even more stringent regulations than the US, because in some European countries horses are classed as agricultural animals and can therefore enter the human food chain.
Any product sold in mainland Europe that is ingested by horses must be manufactured in a Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) accredited facility. This facility must also be independently audited by a European Feed Safety Inspection Service (EFSIS) inspector.
The requirements of this scheme are exacting, but they guarantee that any product manufactured in accredited facilities can boast the following credentials:
- All product ingredients must be sourced from UFAS accredited suppliers.
- All product ingredients can be fully traceable from “field to feed.”
- All products are manufactured to the very highest Quality Control specifications as laid down by EFSIS.
- Hygiene standards are the same as those required for human food facilities.
- Products are required to undergo regular random testing for Salmonella and Heavy Metals.
- All product labels must comply with Trading Standards and European regulations and guidelines.
- The facility must have undertaken a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point risk assessment, an internationally recognized way of managing food safety and protecting the consumer.
In the unlikely event of an adverse reaction or customer complaint, member manufacturers are able to identify not only the exact batch of each individual ingredient in the product, but are also able to identify the source of those ingredients back to the producer.
If you want to be confident the supplements you buy for your horse and pet are “fit for purpose,” look for products bearing the NASC, EFSIS or SAI Global logos. These will tell you that the manufacturer cares as much about your horse’s and pet’s health as you do!
Hilary Self, BSc MNIMH, is Medical Herbalist and Director at Hilton Herbs. Hilton Herbs is one of the NASC’s founder members and is proud to hold the organization’s Seal of Quality. Hilary also sits on the NASC’s Scientific Advisory Committee. Hilton Herbs sells products throughout Europe and has been accredited by UFAS for the last 5 years, successfully undergoing annual inspections by EFSIS. Food safety checks require even their Pakistan supplier of Himalayan Rock Salt Licks hold the same level of accreditation. Learn more at www.hiltonherbsusa.com