Global demand for meat, dairy, and egg products continues to increase as the world’s population grows and improving economic conditions allow for better diets and reduced world hunger. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations projects increases in world meat and dairy production over the next decade of 13 percent and 17 percent, respectively, and, says David Fairfield, senior vice president of feed services at the National Grain and Feed Association in Arlington, Va., a sustainable supply of nutrients for animal food is needed to meet this growing demand.
Carefully calibrated animal feed rations do a superior job of enabling livestock to grow out to slaughter weight in the fastest and most reliable way, says Nicole Civita, JD, LLM, adjunct professor of law at University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville. However, as increasing numbers of farmers, food entrepreneurs, and consumers become aware of and concerned about the environmental and economic problems associated with both livestock production and food waste, there is renewed interest in using food scraps as animal feedstock or as a feed supplement—a practice that has actually been used worldwide for centuries.
“Diverting food away from landfills and instead into a food supply for farm animals is a mutually beneficial practice for regional farms, food businesses, and the environment,” says Emily Broad Leib, JD, faculty director and clinical professor of law, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic in Cambridge, Mass.
Civita points out that farmers can save money by using food scraps, because feed is often the most costly input needed for animal agriculture, and is certainly a constant need. “Farmers who carefully select types and combinations of food scraps that are nutritionally appropriate for and readily digestible by their animals should be able to simultaneously promote animal health and wellbeing, secure a reasonable rate of growth, and make use of food that would otherwise go to waste,” she says.
Additionally, many businesses and institutions that produce, process, sell, and serve food can save money in garbage disposal costs. “Diverting food scraps as animal feed presents the opportunity for significant cost savings [for food processors] in the form of reduced tipping fees that landfills and waste haulers charge to dispose food scraps,” Civita says.
Furthermore, diversion of substantial amounts of excess food for use as animal feed may shift commodity demand and reduce the environmental impact normally created. The majority of all crops—67% of the crop calories grown on farmland in the United States—are dedicated to feeding animals, Civita says.
Along these lines, Broad Leib says that using food waste reduces methane emissions of food in landfills. If scaled up over time, the practice can change the need for and supply of commodity feed production, using land more efficiently. According to a 2016 report from ReFED, an organization focused on reducing food waste, the United States currently sends approximately 63 million tons of food waste to landfills annually.
Laws and regulations at the federal and state levels outline how and what food waste can be repurposed for animal feed. For food waste-feeding operations to better understand and operate under the applicable laws, Broad Leib recommends that organization and business leaders take the following steps:
- Identify the type of animals being fed.
- Identify the type of food that will be fed to animals.
- Articulate reasons for feeding food waste and assess the feasibility of doing so.
- Separate animals that may be fed food scraps from those that may not.
- Develop a plan for acquiring, heat treating (if necessary), transporting, and/or storing food.
- Obtain or ensure that partner facilities have required permits, licenses, and certifications.
- Ensure that a food waste-feeding model complies with all applicable federal laws.
- Contact the relevant state regulatory body to confirm compliance with state laws and for further advice.
Both federal and state governments regulate the use of food waste in animal feed by setting requirements that largely concern the type of animals that may be fed food waste and the kind of waste they may be fed. The federal regulations function as a floor, and most state regulations go beyond them, Broad Leib says.
According to Broad Leib, federal laws for using food scraps as animal feed include:
- FDA’s Ruminant Feed Ban Rule, which prohibits using animal tissue in feeds for ruminant animals, such as cows.
- FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine regulations of animal food products, which state that animal feed cannot be filthy or decomposed, be packaged or held under unsanitary conditions, or contain any poisonous or deleterious substance.
- FDA’s Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Animal Food, which aims to prevent foodborne illness at the processing stage of food production by requiring certain licensure and practices in facilities that process animal feed.
- The federal Swine Health Protection Act, administered by USDA, which aims to ensure that food scraps for swine are free of disease by requiring that meat and animal byproduct-containing food scraps are heat-treated to kill disease-causing bacteria.
State laws vary widely among states. The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic’s 2016 report, Leftovers for Livestock: A Legal Guide for Using Excess Food as Animal Feed, provides information about the restrictions on feeding food scraps to animals in all states, and also outlines federal laws and sharing policy recommendations.
A Closer Look
FDA’s regulation of animal food falls under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, which, in part, requires businesses to register as food facilities. Types of businesses that need to register include those that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food (human and animal) for consumption in the United States unless an exemption applies, says Jennifer Erickson, JD, lead, Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Preventive Controls for Animal Food Regulation at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine in Rockville, Md.
Some businesses that send food waste to farms may be exempt from registering as a food facility, such as restaurants and grocery stores. These businesses are subject to the FD&C Act but don’t have to register or follow the additional FSMA regulations for animal food, which only apply to facilities registered as food facilities, when sending food waste to the animal food supply, Erickson says. But these businesses are subject to the parts of the FD&C Act that apply to all businesses handling animal food—such as the adulteration and misbranding provisions—even if they don’t have to meet specific FSMA requirements. Other requirements, such as the Swine Health Protection Act or other state or local requirements, may apply depending on their activities.
Businesses that are required to register with FDA as a food facility are subject to the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals requirements in 21 CFR part 507, more commonly referred to as the Preventive Controls for Animal Food (PCAF) requirements. There are three ways the requirements can apply, Erickson says, depending on the activities that businesses perform on their byproducts:
- Facilities that don’t further manufacture/process their human food byproducts for use as animal food only have to follow the limited holding and distribution of current good manufacturing practice requirements.
- Facilities that only perform certain manufacturing/processing activities as outlined in FDA’s guidance for industry must only follow CGMP requirements in 21 CFR part 507, subpart B.
- Facilities that perform more complex manufacturing/processing activities must follow both CGMP and Preventative Control requirements, unless another exemption applies.
Additional information on these requirements is contained in Draft Guidance for Industry #239: Human Food By-Products for Use as Animal Food. “But this draft guidance is partially outdated because it was issued prior to the guidance for industry outlining when certain manufacturing/processing activities have to only follow CGMP requirements,” Erickson says.
Additionally, FDA has a fact sheet for safely distributing human food waste for use as animal food. “While this resource was developed primarily to assist facilities during COVID-19, the same food safety principles apply whenever human food waste is sent to animal food,” Erickson says.
Under federal law, food waste containing meat or animal products can generally be fed to animals (except ruminants). The Swine Health Protection Act requires that these scraps be heat treated in a manner sufficient to kill disease-causing bacteria before they can be fed to swine, Broad Leib says. In practice, this generally means that most animal-based food waste must be heated at a boiling temperature for at least 30 minutes by someone who holds a valid license or permit for the treatment. Some foods are exempt from the half-hour boiling protocol, including certain food scraps containing animal products that were industrially processed or manufactured.
Changes in Laws
FDA regulation of animal feed has become more restrictive since the 1980s, when several disease outbreaks were linked to animal feed. These include foot-and-mouth disease in swine and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (commonly referred to as mad cow disease). For example, FDA’s Ruminant Feed Ban Rule, promulgated in 1997, prohibits the use of mammalian protein in feeds for ruminant animals. Under this rule, producers of waste-based ruminant feed must certify compliance and keep detailed records of their inputs and processes, Broad Leib says.
The FSMA also made big changes to the food safety procedures for all food processing, including processing of animal feed, Broad Leib says. For example, this law requires more regular FDA inspections and requires all processing facilities to create a hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls (HARPC) plan for a facility’s safety procedures.
During and after the rulemaking process establishing the requirements in 21 CFR part 507 under the FSMA, FDA had multiple interactions with stakeholders to ensure that the requirements reflected the practices that many were already using to ensure that the food waste they sent to animal food was safe and not adulterated, Erickson says. The requirements were also written so that human food facilities that already controlled food safety hazards for human food didn’t have duplicative requirements for controlling those hazards in animal food byproducts.
Regulations for Different Animals
The regulations and adulteration provisions in the FD&C Act are the same for all animal food; however, because food safety hazards affect species differently, what is necessary to produce a safe, unadulterated animal food in compliance with the regulations and the FD&C Act may differ depending on the species, Erickson says.
Most state laws only address the feeding of food scraps to swine, with many requiring heat treatment of all food scraps given to swine, and a few states banning the practice outright. By contrast, only a few states apply regulations to other animals, Broad Leib says. For example, South Dakota doesn’t regulate the feeding of food scraps to swine, but it does ban the feeding of any kind of food scraps to cattle enrolled in the South Dakota Certified Beef Program. There are fewer regulations regarding feeding food scraps to poultry, although the laws regulating facilities that produce animal feed still apply to facilities that produce feed for poultry.
Fairfield says that different animals have disparate requirements because the physiologies of animal species can cause varied responses to the same contaminant or nutrient. For instance, sheep have a daily requirement for copper as a nutrient, but excessive copper can easily cause copper toxicity because their bodies have difficulty excreting excess copper. Copper toxicity within other animal species is rare, however, because the physiologies of these animal species are better suited to handle copper excesses.
Under the FD&C Act, food cannot be misbranded, meaning that its labeling cannot be false or misleading in any way, and it must include required information. FDA cooperates with state and local partners—in particular, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)—to implement proper labeling to ensure the safe use of feeds, Broad Leib says.
In general, a feed label should contain information describing the feed product and any details necessary for the safe and effective use of the feed, including the name and place of the feed manufacturer, packer, or distributor; certain warning statements; and statements of artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, or chemical preservatives, Broad Leib says.
Additional labeling requirements exist under other federal laws and regulations. For example, FDA’s Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Animal Food requires that, when distributing byproducts, facilities use labels to identify byproducts by their common name.
Animal feed products are also subject to state laws regarding labeling. Many state regulations mandate that feed labels include the brand name (if any), product name, purpose statement, guaranteed analysis, list of ingredients, and directions for use, among other requirements, Broad Leib says. Animal feed producers can find more information on state labeling requirements by contacting the state where products will be distributed or by consulting the AAFCO.
The bottom line is that there are many benefits to diverting food scraps to animal feed. Entities wishing to do so should begin by reviewing applicable rules and regulations, to see if it’s the right fit for them.
Foreign Import Regulations Related to Food Waste
Regulations for imported animal food, including products from China and India, fall under Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) requirements established under FSMA. Under the program, importers are required to evaluate known and reasonably foreseeable hazards associated with foreign foods and their suppliers and implement risk-based preventive controls as appropriate, says David Fairfield, senior vice president at National Grain and Feed Association in Arlington, Va.
Imported animal food, such as human food byproducts, is also subject to the requirements of The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. This act requires the registration of human/animal food producing facilities with the FDA, and for prior notice to be provided to FDA for each shipment of imported food before it arrives in the United States, Fairfield says.
Shipments of products regulated by FDA are subject to examination whenever they are offered for entry into the United States. Products found to be in violation of the laws and regulations administered by FDA are detained, Fairfield says. Products that cannot be brought into compliance will ultimately be refused. Animal food imported into the United States must be composed entirely of ingredients judged acceptable for use in such products.