By Toni Clarke
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Friday it is issuing a proposed rule aimed at improving the safety of food bound for farm animals and pets.
The rule would require companies that make animal feed and pet food sold in the United States to identify potential hazards and put in place procedures to prevent and correct them.
Long in the making, the rule comes days after the agency turned to pet owners for help in an ongoing investigation into jerky products, most made in China, that have killed nearly 600 dogs and cats and sickened thousands of others in the United States since 2007.
The proposal is one of seven key pillars of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, an initiative designed to improve human and animal food safety and reduce food-borne illnesses by giving the FDA greater power to intervene before an outbreak occurs.
"Unlike safeguards already in place to protect human foods, there are currently no regulations governing the safe production of most animal foods. There is no type of hazard analysis. This rule would change all that," said Daniel McChesney, director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance at FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine
The FDA is proposing that the animal feed requirements become effective 60 days after the final rule is published in the Federal Register.
The proposed rule will be published on October 29 and there will be a 120-day comment period. The FDA also plans three public meetings on the rules, the first on November 21.
Small and very small businesses will be given more time than bigger companies to comply.
"These rules will have a major impact on our members," said Richard Sellers, vice president of feed regulation and nutrition with the American Feed Industry Association, who also spoke on behalf of the National Grain and Feed Association.
The groups promised "extensive public comments" on the rules.
The proposals, which run to over 400 pages, would for the first time establish good practices that specifically address the manufacturing, processing, packing and holding of animal food to ensure they are made under conditions that protect against contamination.
Foodborne illness in humans has been well-publicized but people can also get sick from handling pet food contaminated by bacteria like salmonella.
The FDA is under a court-ordered deadline to complete the final rules of the food safety act by the end of June 2015.
Randy Gordon, president of NGFA, said the feed industry has already developed effective product safety programs tailored to the individual facilities.
"It will be vitally important that FDA's regulations provide the flexibility necessary for companies to continue to effectively address feed safety," Gordon said.
(Additional reporting by Ros Krasny in Washington; editing by Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)