The pet humanization trend provides a huge growth market for the US rice industry as pet owners, even during recessionary times, are increasingly purchasing premium and ultra-premium petfoods for their animals, said Jim Heim, president of business development for Central Garden and Pet Inc., at the 113th USA Rice Millers' Association convention.

With US$1.8 billion in annual consumer spending in the pet segment, including US$60 billion in global sales of petfood and treats, Heim said that rice is an ideal petfood ingredient because it is nutritious and the least allergenic of all grains.

"The US rice industry has the potential for a 10 percent increase in revenue derived from this $1.8 billion dollar industry," Heim said. "The natural food pet category alone has grown more than 16 percent in the past six years."

Urging petfood companies to include more rice in their products, Heim said, "Rice makes up less than 1 percent of the ingredients in petfoods, but should constitute 10 to 15 percent."