What Are the OP Grades of Dog Foods?

by Simon Foden Google
    AAFCO OP grading criteria enable pet owners to make informed purchases.

    AAFCO OP grading criteria enable pet owners to make informed purchases.

    Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

    The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) governs the labeling of pet food. It has created a labeling framework designed to prevent pet food manufacturers from misleading customers about the content and nutritional benefit of their products. AAFCO periodically issues an official publication (OP) containing labeling guidance, enabling manufacturers to grade their food against a number of national standards.

    The framework for naming a pet feed product is intended to prevent misrepresentation and misleading claims. For example, for a product name to contain the term “beef food,” the AAFCO requires that the product contain a minimum percentage of the named product. That percentage, according to the Food and Drug Administration, is 95 percent. If the food contains a lower percentage, it should be named “beef recipe,” or “with beef.” The product name must also state which animal the feed is designed for. For example, “beef food for dogs.”

    The net quality grade requires that manufacturers prominently display, on the lower third of the packaging, the total weight of food inside the package. This must be advertised in both imperial and metric measurements. This is so the customer may make an accurate assumption about how much of the product she requires.

    "Guaranteed analysis" refers to the process in which the nutrients are measured. In order for the packaging to make claims about protein, fiber, moisture and other key elements of a product, the product must have undergone an AAFCO-approved analysis process. If a manufacturer wishes to claim that a product is “high in calcium,” for example, the analysis process must prove this to be true.

    This grading criterion calls for a list of ingredients, published in descending weight order. It does not require that the percentage of each ingredient be listed, as that would effectively reveal the recipe. AAFCO also designates which names must be used for certain products. This is to prevent manufacturers from using uncommon names for undesirable by-products or ingredients.

    In order for pet food to be advertised as “complete,” “balanced” or “for puppies,” the guaranteed analysis process must substantiate the nutritional benefits. This grading criterion is designed to prevent manufacturers from making unsubstantiated claims about the nutritional quality of their products.

    If a certain amount of product per day is required in order to deliver on nutritional claims made, the feeding directions must be advertised on the packaging. For example, if a product claims to contain “complete nutrition for dogs,” the minimum feed volume required to deliver upon that claim must also be advertised. For example, “feed [amount of product] per [number of pounds].” Treats, provided they are not advertised as “complete” or “balanced,” are not required to have feeding instructions.

    As well as enabling customers to contact the manufacturer, this information is required to show that the ultimate manufacturer of the product advertises itself as the guarantor of the claims made on the packaging. This is a legal requirement, as some food brands use a third-party manufacturer.

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    About the Author

    Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.

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