The trend towards humanisation may seem to be at odds with the need for greater sustainability in pet food. What is the solution?
Role of cats and dogs
Cats and dogs play an important role in modern society as working animals and pets that bring companionship, health benefits and support learning skills. The pet food industry therefore has a moral obligation to ensure that future generations enjoy these benefits, in other words, to ensure pet food sustainability. This requires rethinking humanisation.
Some argue that the widespread use of rendered animal byproducts (ABPs), like animal proteins and fats used in dry diets, contributes to making the pet food industry more sustainable. With the trend towards humanisation, however, comes the tendency to see these types of ingredients as inferior and of substandard quality.
In the face of the urgent need to drive sustainability and feed a projected 9 billion humans by 2050, the industry is likely to come under increasing scrutiny on pet food raw materials specification. Many already consider it unacceptable to use human grade muscle and organ meats solely to meet demand for humanisation of pet food and increased scrutiny of humanisation seems inevitable.
What is the way forward? One option is to refocus humanisation on ‘nutritional sustainability’ aligned to FAO guidelines to support sustainable, safe, nutritious food for all. It is evident that pet food is already aligned with this concept to the extent that it has a low environmental impact, contributes to healthy life for present and future generations and is nutritionally adequate.
The concept of ‘nutritional sustainability’ of pet food is not new, as evidenced by a 2013 paper entitled exactly that, which concluded:
- Pet food professionals have the opportunity to influence the sustainability of pet foods through product design, manufacturing processes, public education, and policy change.
- A coordinated effort that includes all parts of
- the pet food industry, including ingredient buyers, formulators, and nutritionists, can improve the sustainability of pet foods and pet ownership.
- (Swanson et al, 2013, Nutritional Sustainability of Pet Foods; American Society for Nutrition. Adv. Nutr. 4: 141–150, 2013)
Market research indicates that millennials have the greatest spending power when it comes to pet food and are willing to pay more for ‘sustainable’ products. The key challenge for the industry is to drive that sustainability through innovation, for example, by using cereals of lower, AB, quality instead of top, AA, quality, and by viewing humanisation differently.
Using sustainability certification
Another challenge is to build trust in sustainability projects and deliver tangible social, environmental and financial sustainability – the so-called triple bottom line. People can be suspicious of a company using sustainability as a ‘marketing’ tool, so ensuring credibility is key.
Using sustainability certification can help, especially when combined with effective communication. Certification provides a framework for implementing sustainability and the substantiation of claims and can boost trust. However, as a study* by Maastricht University for MVO Nederland (CSR Netherlands) found, it does not necessarily do so.
When sustainability certification is useful and when it is not useful
When certifications serve as a learning toolWhen certifications are too broad or too narrow
When certifications serve as a networking toolWhen certifications are cost-prohibitive
When certifications provide legitimacy and competitive advantageWhen certifications are not independent
When certification serves as a risk management toolWhen certifications are merely a PR campaign
When certification is looked upon as the panacea
*Source: Certification: a Sustainable Solution? Insights from Dutch Companies on the Benefits and Limitations of CSR Certification in International Supply Chains
(MVO Nederland, January 2015)
To satisfy the needs of millennials and ensure a sustainable pet food industry for future generations, there is a strong argument to redefine humanisation in terms of nutritional sustainability backed up with sustainability certification and communication to demonstrate trust and substantiate claims.
Redefining humanisation in terms of nutritional sustainability provides the way forward to ensure future pet food sector stability and growth for future generations. Humanisation is dead, long live Humanisation 2.0!
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