Today’s pet nutritionists have access to a wealth of ingredients to formulate nutritious diets for a range of pets, but this is not always a sustainable approach. This article explores the sustainability challenges for the pet food industry.
A history of sustainable ingredient use
Traditional pet food ingredients are often byproducts of human food processing: a sustainable outlet for products that are culturally unpopular or deemed second grade by individual nations’ food standards. This helps reduce unused product destined for landfill or incineration and also adds value to such ingredients. So what are today’s challenges towards a more sustainable pet food industry?
Today’s owner demands
The last decade has seen a shift in pet ownership;
in general dogs are now more integrated into the family and many pet parents believe that they should be fed accordingly. Some owners are purchasing products containing recognisable human food ingredients, while others are becoming ‘in-home nutritionists’ formulating their own pet food with ingredients from their kitchen. In some respects we have come full circle from when pets were fed table scraps, although this time it is not so sustainable.
In response to demand, the pet food industry has seen an influx of high-end brands made with ingredients taken directly from scarce human food resources. The result is a paradox – encouraging consumers to move away from sustainable purchasing decisions rather than towards them.
Animal products in pet food
Changes in traditional eating habits, a rise in disposable income and a growing world population have created greater demand for different foodstuffs, especially meat.
The National Farmers Union, an independent organisation representing the rights of the UK farming community, states that ‘the world consumption of all meat has increased from 10kg per person per year in 1980 to 43kg in 2013. In China the increase has been even more pronounced – 19.1kg in 1985 to 58.8kg in 2013.’ The use of meat in high-end pet products can only exacerbate the pressure on already limited resources.
The use of novel vegetables and grains to formulate hypoallergenic diets is also on the rise. As the global population continues to expand, arable land and water are becoming increasingly scarce. Rainforests are being destroyed for commercial plantations and traditional foods such as quinoa – the staple diet of indigenous Andean people – is being used as a novel ingredient. This has resulted in extensive cultivation in a part of the world with very specific biodiversity.
Globally we need to find more effective ways to curb further plastic pollution. One of the key challenges in pet food is the rise of the plastic single-serve product. Plastic pouches and trays are thriving in today’s market, whereas cans are on the decline. An easy rip-and-tip single meal packaging solution removes the need for cumbersome cans often requiring refrigeration if not emptied in one feed. The pet food industry must invest in sustainable packaging solutions or move away from single-serve to more traditional packaging formats.
How can the pet food industry help?
- Promote the use of rendered meat meal, offal and clean animal parts which are both sustainable and nutritionally valuable.
- Avoid using vulnerable animal protein species and invest in sustainability schemes.
- Invest in recyclable or biodegradable packaging and reduce multiple layering of plastics.
- Use locally sourced ingredients to reduce the carbon footprint and foster animal welfare.
- Investigate alternative protein sources such as insects or invasive species that may need a population check.
- Embark on strategies to educate customers on the nutritional requirements and natural preferences of their pet. More transparent ingredient labelling will increase trust amongst customers.
In the early 20th century most pets were fed table scraps or scavenged. Now, in the 21st century, we are experiencing a non-sustainable modern twist on this as dogs are fed high-end human food diets or even home-made formulations using ingredients from the kitchen. Traditional pet food now has competition.
This is partly a self-perpetuating situation brought about by promotion of anthropomorphism and ‘human-grade’ ingredients, now ingrained in some pet owners. Increased humanisation of both packaging and products is at odds with environmental preservation and promotion of sustainability. The pet industry has a key role to play.
The latest articles
European pet food manufacturers establish new group
SANYpet, Natural Line and Codico have created a new production and distribution group to capture the international market.
Flybird Holding’s tender offer for Musti is expected to be completed by March
Portuguese group Sonae increased the amount that shareholders of the Nordic pet retailer will obtain to €26.10 per share.
Zoetis increased revenue by 6% in 2023
Sales of its osteoarthritis, flea, tick and heartworm medications have driven the company’s pet portfolio’s positive results in the last quarter of 2023.
Weekly newsletter to stay up-to-date
Discover what’s happening in the pet industry. Get the must-read stories and insights in your inbox.