NRC vs FEDIAFAre NRC users outdated or inferior and is NRC the Pet Food Industry Boogie Man?
The newest trend as of late is to totally disregard the use of NRC entirely because it has not been updated since the 2006 publication while FEDIAF is updated yearly. This post will cover myths, facts, pros, and cons of nutrient requirements of cats and dogs. Generally, there are people who fall into two camps:
- NRC, FEDIAF, and AAFCO should not be used because within any of these there are some industry ties. None of the information is reliable. Throw it all away.
- FEDIAF is the (and sometimes only) gold standard as they are not related to NRC or the pet food industry. Individuals who use NRC guidelines are outdated. Their formulations are just “not good enough.”
This post is not addressing group A. This post is addressing group B. Those who hold contention for other practitioners and manufacturers for their use of any set of nutrient guidelines- generally FEDIAF users who deem those who use NRC as “outdated.” Oh the irony..as we shall see.
But first! Introductions are in order. Let’s define our terms:
National Research Council (NRC)- “The NRC stands for the National Research Council, which is the” operating arm of the The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (also known as “NASEM” or “the National Academies”) for the purpose of providing objective policy advice. Although separately chartered, it falls legally under the overall charter of the National Academy of Sciences, whose ultimate fiduciary body is the NAS Council. Under this three-academy umbrella, the National Research Council produces reports that shape policies, inform public opinion, and advance the pursuit of science, engineering, and medicine.” 1
Put simply, The NRC is a private, non-profit organization that collects and evaluates research done by others. The NRC establishes minimum nutrients needed for growth and maintenance of healthy dogs (and much more). “ (Used with permission from Cat Lane, CH, Diet Formulation Course)
FEDIAF- “FEDIAF is the trade body representing the European pet food industry. We have members from 18 countries and five company members (Affinity Petcare, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Mars PetCare, Nestlé Purina Petcare and Wellpet).” 2
“FEDIAF has produced a nutritional guideline which members follow; the FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines for Complete and Complementary Pet Food for Cats and Dogs. This is a comprehensive review of the NRC data and other existing science produced as a practical guide for manufacturers. The guidelines are peer re-viewed by independent veterinary nutritionists throughout Europe.”3
“One of FEDIAF’s main objectives is to ascertain the wellbeing of pets by providing well balanced and nutritionally sound pet food through its member companies”
Association of American Feed Control (AAFCO): AAFCO is a private organization that establishes non-binding guidelines for the production of pet foods and animal feeds in general. AAFCO is not a government organization but only government officials can be members of AAFCO. Industry and private groups can attend AAFCO meetings to contribute advice. They are not voting members. However, industry and private groups could certainly have persuasive power. AAFCO cannot enforce their guidelines and their guidelines are adopted by individual U.S. states. It is up to the states to put AAFCO guidelines into law. AAFCO is concerned with making pet foods nutritionally safe. AAFCO does not inspect or regulate anything. Therefore, when major pet food recalls are issues, AAFCO is generally not the entity you should be pointing your finger at. 4
One other background piece of information before continuing: What are nutrient requirements?
Nutrient requirements are often thought of as a set of guidelines for minimum and optimal levels of any nutrient. A nutrient here is something that is essential. Where the absence of the nutrient results in disease or death. In this aspect, nutrient guidelines become the ground work in providing the essentials at levels above just disease prevention and not just the minimums. Nutrient requirements (or better stated as nutrient guidelines) do not address the numerous factors that affect true nutrient needs. Factors that include health, genetic variations, breeds, activity level and type, and environment (to name a few). Therefore, many things can affect a dog or cat’s nutrient requirements for optimal health. A working sled dog will have much different nutrient needs than the professional couch potato. This includes energy, antioxidants, macronutrient needs beyond basic nutrient guidelines, and much more. Nutrient requirements as outlined in NRC or FEDIAF do not focus on non-essential nutrients and their pros and cons.
Example: FEDIAF, NRC, and AAFCO will present guidelines for amounts of nutrients providing antioxidant functions. They will not account for increased needs for dogs exposed to excessive toxic burdens or dogs who are sporting dogs. No set of guidelines can account specifically the nutrient requirements for the most optimal diet per dog. This is the benefit of homemade formulations and a good nutritionist.
I have decided going forward I will begin differentiating nouns- nutrient guidelines when talking about NRC, AAFCO, and FEDIAF and nutrient requirements when talking beyond the essential groundwork laid by nutrient requirements. This is for the purpose of differentiating what I am talking about and avoiding confusion in this post.
This point is important and we will revisit this when we wrap up.
Let’s get into some myths
- NRC is the Pet Food Industry itself. Therefore, use FEDIAF.
- FEDIAF is the safe haven. Updated with the best science and far superior to NRC.
- FEDIAF does not rely on animal cruelty
- NRC is useless because it doesn’t use raw diets.
NRC is the Pet Food Industry itself. Not to be trusted because of associations with the Pet Food Industry. Therefore, FEDIAF is superior.
“The NRC receives no direct financial support for the nutrient requirements series and is dependent, therefore, on sponsorship for each report. There are also restrictions on the proportions of funding that can be accepted from sponsors who could be perceived as having a financial interest in the findings of a report. These financial challenges are the largest impediment to more frequent updates.”
“The 2006 recommendations were formulated by an ad hoc committee consisting of a chairman and nine other members considered experts in some aspects of the nutrition of dogs and cats. Of these experts, eight were from academic institutions and one was an independent consultant. “
FEDIAF is different than NRC. FEDIAF president, Mechthild Exner-Herforth, is also the vice president of Corporate Affairs at Mars Petcare Europe. Members include: WellPet, Mars Pet Care, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Nestle Purina Petcare, and more.
NRC, or more specifically here The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), is certainly not perfect in regards to their funding sources. Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit, provides independent criticisms of NAS. This post does not by any means exonerate all things NRC.
IMAGE SOURCE: http://www.fediaf.org/who-we-are/our-mission.html
FEDIAF is quite literally The European Pet Food Industry with a body that has members of pet food makers.
It could be argued that FEDIAF has much heavier ties with the “Pet Food Industry” even when accounting for a definite less-than-perfect NAS history. Regardless, FEDIAF heavily utilizes NRC. It is also certainly worth noting that FEDIAF employs independent veterinary nutritionists to review nutrient guidelines:
“FEDIAF has produced a nutritional guideline…..The guidelines are peer re-viewed by independent veterinary nutritionists throughout Europe.”
“FEDIAF also works closely with numerous other recognised authorities such as the American Association of Food Control Officers (AAFCO) plus internationally respected nutritionists, vets, biochemists and animal behaviourists, in order to keep up to date on the latest science and feeding requirements of pets.”
FEDIAF, AAFCO, NRC- all intertwined with NRC really forming the base of all nutrient guidelines.
As for me, I don’t care about either having ties to industry professionals and pet food companies. More on that later. I think that each entity is serving an important purpose.
FEDIAF produces the best product. Updated with the best science and far superior to NRC.
This claim I find often comes from individuals who do not understand the role of the nutritionist. FEDIAF heavily utilizes NRC. AAFCO heavily utilizes NRC. Many nutritionists heavily utilize NRC..or FEDIAF…and therefore NRC.
Business vector created by macrovector – www.freepik.com
One thing to know is I suck at infographics. This is my best way of visualizing what I am talking about. The actual nutrient guidelines are just one piece of a giant puzzle. Utilizing nutrient guidelines means needing to understand biology and chemistry which include anatomy, physiology, environmental science- and also understanding lifestyle, all things non-essential such as non-essential nutrients in food and herbs, ingredients, and hundreds of pieces of the puzzle that continue off of health. Utilizing up-to-date science is important. Afterall, we could just use FEDIAF or NRC and build a terrible recipe because we used low-quality ingredients. See our More Than Monday posts in Raw Fed & Nerdy.
Here is what FEDIAF is doing and here is what I am doing in a very oversimplified manner:
NRC-> Additional Science -> FEDIAF regulations for the purpose of manufacturing
Me and My Colleagues:
NRC-> Additional Science -> Homemade recipe formulations for the purpose of feeding specific dogs.
0% of my recipes stick strictly to NRC because I have hundreds of other pieces of the puzzles to put together and I’m addressing a specific dog- not manufacturer guidelines. Even then, some disease states will indicate using below nutrient guidelines. Again, just another piece of the puzzle.
Just because somebody uses FEDIAF (or NRC) does not mean the formulation is quality.
Again, replace NRC with FEDIAF in the left puzzle piece. You can create suboptimal recipes because knowledge is lacking in any single area of nutrition and health science.
Bottom Line: The nutrient guidelines that a practitioner uses does not indicate the quality of the nutritionist. The actual NRC book is huge. The little nutrient chart in the back is a tiny piece of the book. Regardless of whether one uses FEDIAF or NRC, the NRC book is still essential to have if you really want to know how the guidelines came about. FEDIAF’s publications are very small compared to the NRC publication. All serious nutritionists I know own the book, read the book, and assess the information independently. Just like FEDIAF. There are exceptional nutritionists that use NRC and there are exceptional nutritionists that use FEDIAF. The same is true of many poor formulators.
FEDIAF does not rely on animal cruelty.
Considering that FEDIAF heavily utilizes NRC, this is completely false. It is inaccurate to say that the NRC itself is responsible for the terrible studies conducted on animals and everybody else is innocent. This type of rhetoric lets me know that the individual did not pick up the book and read the actual book or understands FEDIAF.
NRC Doesn’t Use Raw Diets
This statement is irrelevant. A dog does not have a lower nutrient need because the food is uncooked. Furthermore, it appears that many individuals do not understand the nuances of how a good scientific study is conducted. These claims that utilizing NRC means the formulator is not aware of the relevance to raw diets is untrue.
“The in-depth text in the NRC book does indeed provide detailed information about how various ingredients impact bioavailability of nutrients. It also discusses relationships between different nutrients and how they can impact the absorption of other nutrients.
“Does the NRC book also include information on nutrients from studies that used purified diets? Yes. Why? Because a purified diet is the only way to determine the actual BIOLOGICAL NEED of a nutrient. It eliminates any interferences (that the researchers may be aware of at the time of the study) so they can determine just how much of a specific nutrient is necessary. However, the book also provides information from other studies that researched the impact of interferences – such as the effect foods that contain phytates or oxalates might have on mineral absorption, and how much of a specific mineral is then needed depending on the amount of phytates or oxalates in the diet.” Bonnie Edkin, Search #edkineducates in RFN to find full context and for other fantastic information. January 31, 2019
FEDIAF has higher nutrient requirements.
In any given publication- NRC, FEDIAF, AAFCO- there will be areas where one holds the higher nutrient requirement and another holds a lower amount. It turns out that experts can disagree. That being said, very few people stick strictly to any standard- even NRC users who are using the primary document. Again, it is completely inaccurate to assume that nutritionists are sticking right to the RA for nutrients (unless therapeutically necessary).
One other thing: It is completely inaccurate to compare guidelines (simplified FEDIAF and NRC chart) side by side and determine one is better on the basis of higher nutrient values. A good nutritionist accounts for this in every single personal recipe formulation.
They cannot be compared side by side, first of all. Even then, there are times when NRC is higher or FEDIAF is higher. Moreover, FEDIAF is missing a lot of information on fatty acids including some requirement information. This makes sense from a manufacturer point of view. This can all be rectified by looking at the document from which fediaf is based off of.
Why are many studies in general funded by pet food makers?
The largest pet food companies fund many useful studies pertaining to canine and feline nutrition. Should we take note of funding? Of course. Is it accurate to disregard the study in its entirety because of funding? Certainly not. It is much more accurate to assess the methodology. Pet food companies have an interest in funding pet nutrition studies not because they want to poison your pet. I am grateful for contributions made by these companies because it allows me to utilize modern studies that I, myself, could never afford to fund. Does that mean I support everything Nestle Purina does? Of course not. If I did, I wouldn’t be here making this content, formulating diets, and utilizing whole, fresh foods.
“NRC users are outdated” or “NRC is very outdated” rhetoric demonstrates that the person has minimal knowledge about what is actually needed to formulate optimal diets and the methods used by formulators. Especially if they hop on over to FEDIAF without reading the NRC book. The belief that fediaf is massively updated compared to NRC indicates that perhaps the individual doesn’t know the base of the requirements they are using.
This thinking disregards the difference of nutrient guidelines and nutrient requirements and the larger picture of nutrition science. Just one course of all courses I have taken specifically used NRC. All other courses discussed different pieces of the puzzle- anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, etc. Human nutritionists do not go to school simply to learn of the RDAs.
Stop passing judgement about others based on the nutrient guidelines they use.
It’s silly and uneducated.
- Dog Food Logic, https://www.aafco.org/Portals/0/SiteContent/Announcements/AAFCO_PBAFPF_(003).pdf