FDA proposes first-ever safety rule on pet food

The Food and Drug Administration is taking a major new step to improve the overall safety of the pet food Americans feed their cats and dogs every day.

The agency has proposed a new requirement that manufacturers develop procedures to prevent foodborne illness by protecting all animal foods from disease-causing bacteria, chemicals and other contaminants.

For the first time, manufacturing facilities would have to follow "good manufacturing practices" that address issues like sanitation, CNN reports.

The proposal comes as scientists work to figure out the mystery behind tainted jerky treats mostly from China that have sickened thousands of American dogs and some cats.

The FDA says the proposed rules will give its inspectors more power to address offenders during the manufacturing process rather than waiting for contaminated products to reach the market.

This is huge news for pet owners who support this $20 billion industry.

FDA officials in news reports fess up to the fact that pet food is currently  regulation-free.

"Unlike safeguards already in place to protect human foods, there are currently no regulations governing the safe production of most animal foods," said Daniel McChesney, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a statement. "There is no type of hazard analysis. This rule would change all that."

The agency says it also is seeking to better protect human health since people have become ill from handling tainted pet food.

The rule comes in the wake of a series of pet food recalls.The worst, in 2007, involved melamine -- a chemical used to make plastic -- that was intentionally added to pet food ingredients made in China, which sickened thousands of pets and led to a large recall.

"The bottom line is that we want the foods that animals eat to be safe," McChesney said. "We want you to be safe if you're handling pet food or eating foods derived from animals. This rule will help us do that."

More from the Los Angeles Times here.

The agency is holding three public meetings on the proposed rule in coming months:

Nov. 21 in College Park, Md.

Nov. 25 in Chicago

Dec. 6 in Sacramento

For more information on the proposed rule and public meetings see the FDA website. For more information on dog food/treat recalls (and food reviews) see Dog Food Advisor.