By P.J. Huffstutter
(Reuters) - A new federal program aims to standardize inspection procedures for pet food and farm animal feed produced in the United States, making them safer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Friday.
The Animal Feed Regulatory Program Standards comprise a series of new voluntary standards for inspections by state and other regulatory programs that oversee the production of pet food and feed for farm animals such as cattle, chickens and pigs.
Concern over the safety of pet food and farm animal feed has mounted in recent years, as discoveries of salmonella-contaminated dog food and livestock feed contaminated with a corn-based toxin led to waves of product recalls and worries about the safety of the U.S. food production system.
Pet food is a more than a billion-dollar grain-based business in the United States, while livestock feed accounts for the primary use of the two biggest row crops in the country.
But routine inspection and enforcement practices can differ among the various state agencies responsible for conducting inspections of the companies that make these products, and problems can often fall through the gaps, critics say.
The new standards aim to help unify this process, with guidelines that range from on-site inspection protocols at feed plants to how to respond to feed-related illnesses or deaths.
While the program is not mandatory, "the FDA is encouraging state programs to implement the feed standards because this will build uniformity and consistency among state feed regulatory programs," the agency said in an email.
The new program follows the 2011 federal Food Safety Modernization Act, which shifted the focus of federal regulators away from responding to food contamination to preventing it.
(Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)