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Food produced for domestic pets and other animals will have to follow strict new standards under a proposed rule issued Friday by the Food and Drug Administration.
The new regulation, part of the FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act, would require for the first time that companies that make pet food and animal feed follow good manufacturing practices that encompass basic issues such as sanitation and hazard analysis.
"We have been pushing feed safety for a number of years," said Daniel McChesney, director of the office of surveillance and compliance at the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "It's not, 'Oh, we're just making food for animals.' They're the first part of the food chain. We're a part of the overall food industry."
(Read more: Does you holiday budget factor in a $1,000 vet bill?)
The new rules will be open for public comment for 120 days, and would be adopted as law within 60 days after the comment period closes.
They would apply to all domestic and imported animal food, including pet food, pet treats, animal feed, and the raw ingredients that make those products.
That means, for instance, that the producers of chicken, corn and sweet potato jerky treats made in China and blamed for the deaths of 600 pets and illnesses in about 3,600, will have to meet strict new requirements before their products can be sold, officials said.
FDA has always had rules in place that prohibit adulterants in pet food. That's why the agency has issued company-initiated recalls for salmonella-tainted bird food, for instance, or dog food contaminated with aflatoxin, a naturally occurring mold by-product.
But, until now, there's been no requirement that companies analyze the potential food safety hazards of their products or that they follow current good manufacturing practices, or CGMPs, that specifically address animal food.
"We're not starting completely from scratch," said Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine. "What's important is that FDA take a comprehensive approach to food safety that covers the food supply comprehensively."
The challenge for firms that produce animal foods and pet products will be in meeting the deadlines for compliance, McChesney said. Times will vary according to the size of an operation, with small and very small businesses being allowed more leeway.
The FDA will hold three public meetings in November and December to seek input on the proposed rule.
—By JoNel Aleccia, NBC News