How can pet food brands meet sustainability demands?
A survey of global consumers shows that many believe companies are the most responsible for addressing sustainability issues such as increasing the amount of recycled packaging or reducing emissions from air travel – more responsible than governments or the consumers themselves.
That’s what the new Mintel Sustainability Barometer says, a survey report. In addition to the 48% of consumers worldwide who say companies are most responsible for sustainability (compared to 25% for consumers or 20% for governments), 44% say they believe the country where they live is suffering from climate change. , but only 33%, on average, believe their country is a contributor.
“There seems to be a sustainability gap – a stark difference between consumers’ experience with the causes of climate change and the reality of where the responsibilities lie,” says Richard Cope, senior trends consultant for Mintel. “One of the main challenges for businesses and brands is how to effectively bridge this understanding gap in order to better position their products and services as part of the sustainability solution. It will require more education on the uncomfortable realities if more consumers are to get involved in the environmental issues and products. “
The survey revealed some ways for businesses and brands to better connect with consumers about sustainability. In terms of what encourages them to buy products or services that claim to benefit or protect the environment, respondents said they most wanted information about the direct impact of their purchase (e.g. a tree planted per purchase), followed by labeling to show the environmental impact of the product, such as its CO2 emissions, the amount of water used or the distance traveled to reach the consumer.
Pet Food Environmental Footprint Labels
These survey results may offer insight to pet food companies and brands, although one challenge (not unique to pet food) is the lack of standardization in footprint measurement. carbon. Even where a robust methodology exists, such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), to date there is no standardization in our industry as to how to conduct one. (For more information on ACVs in pet foods, check out this webinar, “How Sustainability Impacts Pet Food Ingredients, Packaging,” in which Heather Acuff, Business Development Manager of products for Nulo Pet Food, provides an overview of the LCA framework.)
Reaching the point of being able to provide sustainability-related information on labels could be critical for consumers increasingly focused on this, as the environmental footprint of pet foods has been criticized by mainstream media, consumers. environmental and other organizations. The main culprit, according to most of these reviews, is animal protein sources, especially livestock. (Pet food suppliers using other protein sources also often take this approach in their marketing strategies and materials.)
The “evidence” they frequently cite is a study published by Gregory S. Okin of the University of California, Los Angeles in 2017 which allegedly shows that “the consumption of animal products for dogs and cats is responsible for the release of up to 64 ± 16 million tonnes of CO.2-equivalent to methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gases.
While several of Okin’s research findings, especially some of the pet food assumptions he made while leading them, have been refuted by pet food experts and related organizations, these documents do not tend to be found or reported in most articles citing Okin’s study. (Or maybe they’re discounted as industry bias.)
Do traditional pet food proteins deserve a high carbon footprint?
Recently, an expert who has also studied the durability of protein in pet foods, Kelly S. Swanson, Ph.D., professor of comparative research in nutrition and nutrigenomics at the University of Illinois at Urbana -Champaign, addressed other hypotheses regarding these protein sources. and how they are used in pet foods. In an Ask the Pet Food Pro discussion on new proteins, he said that in many cases an LCA to calculate a product’s carbon footprint is based on human food.
“Unfortunately, I think the key limiter on the pets side is that some people will give the same values,” he explained. For example: “If you have meat and bone meal versus a sirloin steak, we clearly know that these are different products. They come from different cuts, and you have the bone there, but some people give them the same carbon footprint because it comes from a cow. I guess I don’t agree with that philosophy, if especially on the companion animal side, with livestock or aquaculture, we use byproducts, that really gives credit, if you will, to it. food industry.
In other words, if half of an animal’s carcass is not intended for human food production but is used in pet food or other animal feed product, it is ‘sustainable use of the whole animal. “I think it doesn’t deserve to have the same footprint,” Swanson said.
In his article, Okin touched on this concept that pet food contributes to sustainability by using by-products (or, as Swanson calls them, by-products) of animal production for human consumption. “The argument that the environmental and energy impacts of dogs and cats are avoided by eating byproducts of the human food system, and otherwise the material would be wasted, rests on the assumption that these same byproducts could not be made to be fit for human consumption after proper processing, ”Okin wrote.
Of course, the point is that they are not suitable, because most of us humans in the western world reject their consumption! (Okin did not discuss this in his article.)
However, there is an agreement with Okin regarding human grade protein in pet foods; Swanson has pointed out their lack of sustainability in his previous research. I believe Swanson and others would also agree with Okin’s conclusion that over-nutrition – the growing incidence of obesity in pets – increases the carbon footprint of pet food.
The power of upcycling in pet foods
Finding common ground on sustainability, for pet foods or in general, is difficult in part because of this lack of standardization in measurements and methodologies. Since the Okin study, some progress has been made with pet food: for example, in 2018 the FEDIAF (European Federation of the Pet Food Industry) published rules and guidelines guidelines for environmental footprints for various products (cited by Acuff in their webinar presentation). And more recently, the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) conducted research on the carbon footprint of pet food protein sources with Iowa State University.
Much research is still needed, and hopefully work will soon be available and as widely referenced as the Okin study. Meanwhile, pet foods have a strong sustainability to say, first with the protein ingredients which are byproducts of animal production for humans. Unfortunately, they have received a negative and deceptive reputation in the past on pet food review sites (sometimes inspired by marketing messages from the pet food companies themselves) for not being nutritious. or of good quality, when in fact they are very digestible, palatable and nutritious for dogs and cats.
Perhaps the bad reputation can be overcome by calling these ingredients secondary products, as Swanson does, or by referring to their use with a popular new term: recycling. Yes, it’s a buzzword now, but it may have lasting power thanks to the growing number of sustainability-conscious consumers.
Swanson made this connection during the Ask the Pet Food Pro chat. “The pet food industry, since its inception, has sort of recycled and used things that others considered not to be human food. And again, in the United States, we don’t eat certain things that are eaten in other parts of the world. So we have to think of it that way. “
To note: Caitlyn Dudas, Executive Director and Co-Founder of PSC, will present information from their pet food protein study at the Petfood Forum 2021, while Aurelie de Ratuld, Ph.D., CSR Director for Diana Pet Food, will speak on LCA and Swanson will host a panel discussion on fresh and human grade pet food.