For the environmentally conscious consumers who have done it all, from greening their homes to decarbonizing their travel, there’s a new frontier: greening their pets. In June, Petfood Industry conducted a survey of our petfood professional readers and asked them about their thoughts on sustainability and the pet market. A majority of respondents (62%) thought consumer demand is the driver for adopting sustainable and “green” practices, while 58% believe their organizations are following such practices because it’s the right thing to do. A whopping 77% of respondents believe consumers define “green” petfoods as having natural ingredients, and the same percentage believe it’s very or somewhat important for their organizations to be leaders in adopting sustainable practices.
What does “sustainable petfood” mean, anyway? According to the National Academies’ recently released report, Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century, sustainability has four goals:
- Satisfy food, feed and fiber needs, and contribute to biofuel needs;
- Enhance environmental quality and the resource base;
- Sustain the economic viability of agriculture; and
- Enhance the quality of life for farmers, farm workers and society as a whole.
The petfood industry is often overlooked as a major source of fish consumption. According to a study that appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics in October 2008, our industry uses about 2.48 million metric tons of forage fish each year to produce wet cat food. (That excludes fishmeal used to produce dog food, dry cat food and fish food.) So how can we balance cats’ dietary needs with protecting the oceans? Several manufacturers have recently begun to answer that question.
Mars Petcare—makers of Whiskas and Sheba brand cat food—announced its commitment in Europe to introduce petfood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council by the end of 2010. The company is working in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to develop its fish sustainability commitment, which will roll out across all its petfoods by 2020.
Mark Johnson, the UK general manager of Mars, said people were increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability. “We are now the first pet company to make a commitment to sustainable fish, and we hope that will act as a catalyst for the whole industry.”
The program’s goals are to use only fish from 100% sustainable wild catch and sustainable aquaculture sources, to replace all wild catch whole fish and fish filet with sustainable fish by-products and sustainable aquaculture and to use only sustainable alternatives to marine fish ingredients.
The Honest Kitchen announced similar products with the launch of the cat treat Wishes (Made From Fishes) which consist of 100% Icelandic haddock, which is more sustainable than haddock in US waters, according to the company. The stock has risen dramatically in the past five years around that country, which means more fish, but they are “wild caught” so it’s less invasive, thus more eco-friendly, to catch them that way. The Honest Kitchen is also an approved member of Green America, which places a high priority on sustainability, “green” business and fair-trade.
Agricultural-based ingredients, which make up the bulk of most manufactured petfoods, need to be sourced sustainably, and Pulse Canada says it’s time for our industry to give peas a chance. How are we helping the environment and pets by using products that include pulse crops?
Pulse crops, which include beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas, are among the small group of crops that draw their own nitrogen fertilizer directly from the atmosphere. “When products are made using pulse crops, you are making the environmentally friendly choice because less fossil fuel is used to grow the plants and less carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted as a result,” explains Pulse Canada literature. “Pulse crops use less nonrenewable energy inputs, reducing overall greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
Vegetable protein sources like pulses are one of the few ways to accommodate increasing protein needs while minimizing people’s and pets’ environmental footprint, according to the organization. As people and pet populations grow, it’s increasingly important to minimize the need to change the planet’s wildlife habitat and other fragile lands to use for petfood production.