Pet owners are being warned to carefully source the food they buy online for their animals after suppliers in Devon were found to be selling illegal products. An investigation into home-based online pet food suppliers by Heart of the South West Trading Standards has uncovered six businesses in Devon selling through social media platforms, marketplaces and on their websites that were not legally compliant with strict labelling requirements.

A further four were also identified in Somerset. Officers tested dog treats and canine supplements and, in each case, the product was incorrectly labelled.

None of the businesses had produced the pet food themselves; eight were repackaged products produced by other businesses and in two cases the products had been manufactured for them by another business.

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The suppliers have since been given guidance on how to ensure that the products that they sell are within the law. The test purchases were carried out in response to concerns about the proliferation of small-scale feed business operators setting up online.

It has been confirmed these types of small business are often not registered with Trading Standards, or if using products of animal origin, with The Animal and Plant Health Agency. As a direct result of the test purchase and sampling exercise, five of the businesses are now registered for feed hygiene and two are purely retailing and have no requirement to register. Two will soon register.

Naomi Osborne, the service’s lead officer for agriculture, said: “Many of these businesses set up during or after the pandemic, and we were concerned that there was a lack of awareness of the requirements and legal obligations relevant to this type of operation. We were particularly concerned that labelling claims, such as the product being ‘home-made’, or ‘free-from’, or ‘natural’ etc, could not be substantiated.

“It’s vital that businesses adhere to the strict regulations and that’s what we are here for, to advise and support and where needed, to intervene. As a service, we receive many requests for advice each year on the requirements for selling homemade pet treats and feeds.

“We would initially direct them to the free business advice guides on our website and provide them with information about our paid for services and pet food pack.”

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Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council’s cabinet member for Trading Standards, added: “Selling sites such as Facebook marketplace have made it easier for these businesses to start up as they can reach many consumers without overhead expenses of physical business premises.

“Many of these types of small businesses aren’t registered and as a result they are unaware of the legislative and feed safety requirements when producing a pet food in what is a highly regulated industry. Accurate labelling is crucial to provide transparency and ensure that pet owners make informed choices.”