It appears that the estimated 470m pet dogs and 370m pet cats in the world have a significant impact on climate change. Fortunately, consumers are increasingly on the lookout for sustainable pet food and pet products. As an industry, we need to meet this need and reduce the pawprint of our pet food products on the planet.
What is the environmental impact of pet food?
Around 44% of the UK’s population own a pet, and it’s clear that owners here, as well as across the pond, love their furry family members. As such, the kinds of food we feed our animals reflect their status and increasingly include “human-grade” pet foods that use prime meat cuts (and other ingredients). This adds pressure to a global food system that will have to feed an estimated 9 billion people by 2050. Yet, pet food carrying a “human-grade” label won’t necessarily give pets the nourishment they need and isn’t always necessary.
Research suggests that proteins have the highest environmental impact compared to other ingredients. A recent study led by Edinburgh University, the first to focus on the global environmental impact of pet food production, found that:
- 49 million hectares of agricultural land (double the size of the UK) – is used to make dry pet food for cats and dogs every year
- The pet food industry creates annual greenhouse gas emissions of 106 million tonnes of carbon dioxide
- The industry produces more greenhouse gases each year than countries like Mozambique and the Philippines
Note: this study only focused on dry pet food production, and so the complete environmental impact is actually much higher.
Cats, dogs and diet
Could the solution to sustainable pet food be a vegan diet? The answer is a flat no for cats who are obligate carnivores. On the other hand, vegan dog food is on the rise as dogs are omnivores with the digestive enzymes to handle starches. Careful consideration is still needed when approaching a vegan/vegetarian diet for dogs and modifications according to each breed, age and stage.
Insects offer a sustainable source of animal protein (more on this below). While the food industry struggles to make insects appealing to western consumers, dogs appear to enjoy them. Insects are not just edible but offer a helpfully different mix of amino acids and a rich source of protein.
Over-eating is undoubtedly an issue. Treats, coupled with more animals being left at home for long periods and having less exercise, all adds up. As we wrote in our blog around obesity, it’s estimated that 40% of dogs (and 53% of cats) are overweight or obese in the UK. So, it seems a good proportion of our pets could do with less.
Finding more sustainable pet food ingredients – USA leads the way
One approach to sustainability is eliminating food waste. The practice of rendering (to reduce, convert or meltdown fat by heating) reclaims the meat and bone scraps from animal agriculture and supermarket leftovers and transforms them into ingredients. According to the North American Renderers Association, roughly 50% of each meat animal would go to waste without rendering.
Californian company Jiminy’s offers us insect protein as an alternative, namely crickets and grubs. They say crickets are high in iron, omega-3 and vitamin B12, and as these insects reproduce in great numbers, they’re an efficient food source, taking up a fraction of the space used by cattle and far less water than would be needed for livestock. What’s more, the shelf life of Jiminy’s products is 1.5 to 2 years, which supports waste reduction.
Bond Pet Foods Inc has harnessed biotechnology to make animal-free and protein-rich pet food. Its first product, the Protein-Packed Dog Treat Bar, is made with a novel dried yeast protein produced using less land, water and energy than conventional proteins. The company is also working on chicken and other traditional meat proteins made through a similar fermentation process.
Berkeley based Wild Earth uses cultured protein made from human-grade koji. The company also offers veggie options with oats, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, blueberries, pumpkin and spinach, providing dogs with antioxidants, enzymes, fibres, minerals and vitamins.
Speaking of fruits and vegetables, those grown for human consumption but become overripe, bruised or fail to meet consumer’s standards can also be converted into products. Kemin Nutrisurance, in collaboration with CSS (a company dedicated to reducing food waste), is creating sustainable pet food ingredients from upcycled grocery food. CSS’s patented Harvest to Harvest technology enables the collection and repurposing of recovered food from supermarkets and other food recovery partners.
Emerging European options
While the Americans are leading in this area, Europe isn’t far behind. In Norway, Biomega Group has developed technology that aims for zero waste in salmon harvesting and processing. Green Petfood in Germany offer vegan and insect-based products, and in the UK, Benevo provides a complete range of vegan/vegetarian foods and treats.
It’s clear that pet foods made with by-products are more sustainable than those made solely from human-grade ingredients. Alternative ingredients are not just viable but becoming more available.