Pet food maker nutrition, quality by ingredient studied

However, pet owners may have trepidations about novel pet food ingredients or varieties, including raw, plant protein, cell-cultured, insect, fungal or algal-based pet foods.

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(Monica Click | Bigstockphoto.com)
(Monica Click | Bigstockphoto.com)

People and pets’ dietary choices influence the amount of resources used and pollution created during the production of their food. Concerns over ecological sustainability lead people to explore various dietary options for themselves and their pets. At the same time, pet owners demand balanced nutrition for their dogs, cats and other animals.

However, pet owners may have trepidations about novel pet food ingredients or varieties, including raw, plant protein, cell-cultured, insect, fungal or algal-based pet foods, Andrew Knight, University of Winchester professor of animal welfare and ethics, said in an email. Owners may be interested in pet foods using alternative ingredients with lower environmental impact than conventional varieties. Yet, a previous study found evidence that pet owners may want more assurance of nutritional soundness of plant-based pet foods.

Vegetarian pet owners most want plant-based diet nutrition info

Globally, pet owners may tend to be vegetarians and vegans at higher rates than average, which has repercussions for their plant-based pet food purchasing preferences. People who avoid eating animal products for ethical reasons face a moral conundrum when feeding their omnivorous dogs and carnivorous cats. Scientists explored this dilemma with an English-language online survey of 3,673 pet owners worldwide. The scientists asked pet owners about their own dietary preferences and their beliefs and behaviors about plant-based dog and cat foods. Participants were located in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States.

“It is clear that an association exists between the diet a pet owner has chosen to follow and the diet they choose to feed their pet,” wrote the researchers in the journal PLOS ONE. The scientists hailed from the University of Guelph, Massey University and Petcurean.

Survey on pet food nutrition and quality

“This provides a real opportunity for companies to cater to that emerging consumer demand,” Knight said. “However, lack of confidence about such novel diets could prove a barrier.”

Knight leads an ongoing survey to examine pet food manufacturers’ approaches to ensuring balanced nutrition and quality control, depending on the main ingredient type. He invites pet food producers to participate in this survey on nutrition and quality control. Participants may opt to receive the results of the survey, which may be useful for benchmarking a pet food company’s practices, he said.

Participate in Knight’s survey

“Some companies are responding to various consumer concerns or interests by seeking to bring new diets to market,” he said. “However, surveys have also indicated that concerns about nutritional soundness inhibit many consumers from purchasing these new products. Yet, there seems to be no published evidence that nutritional soundness and quality control vary with main ingredient type. Evidence of consistency in manufacturing approaches could reassure such consumers, unlocking this emerging market.”

Some of novel proteins are well established and have AAFCO definitions. While others have yet to reach large scale markets, like cell-cultured meat.

“I can't predict the survey results, but hope some producing such novel diets will participate, in which case such light will be shed on production similarities and differences,” Knight said.

Ultimately, after pet food producers make nutritious, high quality pet foods, they must let consumers know that the brands have done so.

Knight said that it’s crucial for companies to also effectively communicate information to retailers and consumers about the steps the pet food makers follow to ensure nutrition and quality.

Knight’s study is open to participants worldwide, so it may reveal differing standards and processes between different regions, he said.

“My study will shed light on good practice where it exists, and highlight change where it needs to happen.”

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