Anchovy, cod, herring, salmon and tuna—a regular alphabet soup of fish species is being used in pet foods today. As pet food manufacturers continue to seek opportunities for differentiating their products from their competitors, they are turning to more diversity in the ingredient panel.
Concern about sustainability of the global fish supply is not new. Fishmeal is commonly used as a food source for farmed fish, and as aquaculture increases, fishmeal use also increases. Fish oil demand has been steadily increasing as more and more people take supplements for their own health and also recognize the benefits for pet health.
Globefish.org, the website maintained by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, states that growing demand on both fishmeal and fish oil have led to higher prices and that although supplies of most sources of fishmeal and fish oil are healthy, the demand continues to grow.
Some consumers have a negative perception of farm-raised fish, which may lead pet food companies to rely on wild-caught sources. This may not be sustainable over the long term, particularly as we see more and more unique fish sources as ingredients in pet food. It also may not be feasible from a cost standpoint, particularly in foods at the mid-range price point.
Aquaculture has a long road ahead to change consumer perception and help drive the conversation to the importance of sustainability. It seems like we often hear stories of endangered populations when we have gone beyond the point of no return, but not before then.
Additional sources for DHA and EPA will need to be included in many formulations to meet the new National Research Council nutrient requirement of 0.05% DHA/EPA in all lifestages or growth diets for dogs and cats. This will lead to an increased demand on fish oil from the pet food industry. Alternate sources of DHA, such as algae, are challenged with fitting into an ingredient definition approved by the Ingredient Definition Committee of the Association of American Feed Control Officials. With the possible elimination of the fat product definition, there will certainly be some scrambling within the industry, as David Dzanis, DVM, PhD, DACVN, discussed in a recent article.
As the pet food industry grows, regulations change and we learn more about nutritional requirements and better health, the challenges seem to present themselves at an astronomical pace. Addressing myriad concerns for meeting nutritional requirements, protecting the supplies of ingredients and achieving a price point that makes sense is a tall order placed on the industry. Regulatory bodies need to be cognizant of these issues and challenges to ensure that a reasonable solution is available.