This article was published in the March 2024 issue of Pet Food Processing. Read it and other articles from this issue in our March digital edition.

The year 2024 might be the “Year of the Dragon” in Chinese culture, but for several state legislatures it is the year of the cat, dog, horse, goat, and any other animal covered by new state tax proposals to fund pet welfare programs. Writing about the appropriate ways to fund programs geared toward the wellbeing of companion animals is always a tricky balancing act, and I am occasionally cast as the “skunk at the picnic” when I take on the subject.

“Raising taxes on pet food manufacturers, and in some cases animal feed manufacturers too, stands to only raise costs for pet owners,” said Louise Calderwood, American Feed Industry Association.

I am sure we can all agree that caring for animals is part of a compassionate culture and we must look for opportunities to improve outcomes for shelter, feral and homeless pets. The pet food industry does its part to support many charitable organizations throughout the country by providing pet food donations and more. We also recognize the state legislatures that have worked within their citizenry to support these programs, through special license plates and other philanthropic means.

Unfortunately, however, some state legislatures have looked toward the animal food industry to foot the bill for state-run pet welfare programs and subsidization of nonprofit animal welfare businesses without exploring traditional or benevolent funding sources first, disproportionately placing the burden of these programs solely on the pet food and animal feed industry at a cost that ultimately trickles down to consumers. The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) is monitoring several such bills this year in state legislatures.



In 2023, the Maryland legislature appropriated $200,000 from its general fund to expand the state’s spay and neuter grant program, which is base-funded by a tax on pet food registrations. Here we are again, in 2024, and the legislature introduced Maryland HB 85, which proposes to expand the program even more. The bill calls for raising the spay and neuter tax on pet food from $100 per product to $130 per product, phased in over three years.

While the AFIA and its members acknowledge that reducing the number of homeless pets is a public concern, placing a tax on pet food products is misplaced — pushing pet ownership further out of reach for citizens who must pay higher costs for their pets’ food.

AFIA supports New Mexico’s $10 million appropriation from the state’s general fund to pay for the construction or modeling of animal shelters, as well as covering costs of emergency housing for abused pets. 


New Mexico

Several years ago, New Mexico developed a $100 surcharge on pet food to fund its spay and neuter program for pets of low-income citizens. This year, the legislature is considering NM H 191, which would provide a $10 million annual appropriation from the state’s general fund to pay for the construction or remodeling of animal shelters and cover the costs of providing emergency housing and care for seized animals subjected to animal cruelty. The AFIA feels this is an appropriate process to address the social issues of caring for abused or homeless pets and supports New Mexico in considering this means of funding for their animal welfare efforts.



Through Vermont H 626, Vermont legislators are proposing to add a $10 surcharge on the registration of all commercial animal food in the state and double the rabies fees attached to dog licenses to create an animal welfare fund. The increased revenue would pay for a director position and an animal welfare division in the state’s public safety department and create a plan to house animals seized in cruelty investigations. The bill is forecasted to raise around $220,000 per year, but unfortunately, that money is only sufficient to cover staff for the new division and per diems for the proposed animal welfare council.

The AFIA believes the proposed methods to fund the activities in this bill are misguided for many reasons, with the most alarming of those being that none of the proceeds will make it to the intended goal of helping animals. Where, then, will the program money come from that is needed to provide those services to animals?



In Virginia, through Virginia SB 31, legislators propose to create a Companion Animal Surgical Sterilization Program and Fund that would be paid for by imposing a surcharge of $50 per ton of pet food distributed in the state. Under the bill, Virginia’s tonnage tax on pet food would be over 222% higher than the average state tonnage fee. However, the AFIA’s chief concern is that none of the money collected by this surcharge would be used to regulate the sale of pet food in the state. The AFIA, along with other like-minded industry groups, successfully lobbied the Virginia legislature to table this bill until 2025.

Maryland state legislature

The Maryland state legislature calls for raising the spay and neuter tax on pet food from $100 per product to $130 per product in 2024. 



Why tax businesses?

Not all companion animals are blessed with stable homes, and not all pet owners have the means to cover the costs of routine care or rehome their pets when their unplanned life circumstances force them to surrender their beloved animals. Subsidized programs to neuter and rehome pets and feral cats are part of a caring culture, but the AFIA posits that the costs of these efforts should not be solely borne by pet food businesses through legislatively mandated taxation.

Many states offer special license plates, voluntary tax form check offs, humane facility licensing and private donations as reasonable tools to raise money for programs to manage the care of homeless pets and sterilize feral cats. Or, if citizens feel strongly that spay and neuter programs and animal shelters are valid social services, then they should lobby their state legislators to follow Maryland’s lead, which last year considered a general fund appropriation to cover the costs of these worthy endeavors.

Raising taxes on pet food manufacturers, and in some cases animal feed manufacturers too, stands to only raise costs for pet owners to provide complete diets to their furry and feathered companions, as well as for farmers working to provide an affordable food supply to our grocery store shelves.

The pet welfare infrastructure has progressed tenfold from good-hearted people looking to find pets their forever homes to nonprofit businesses that must maintain buildings, pay overhead costs and make plans to address long-term challenges. If state legislatures agree that these businesses warrant subsidization to provide community services, then more members of the community should be involved in funding them.

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