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The sustainable pet food dilemma

02 December 2022
10 mins read
Volume 13 · Issue 10


Every aspect of pet ownership has some environmental footprint, whether it is the food they eat, the toys they play with or the faeces they produce. Some of these environmental factors can be influenced by pet owners and healthcare providers, while others cannot. Studies considering the most eco-friendly pets ranked tortoises, rats and mice among the lowest impact pets to keep, with large breed dogs and horses the least eco friendly. These ratings were based on a variety of factors, including the pet's dietary requirements, water requirement, lifespan, transportation costs, grooming and accessories, waste production and likelihood to require veterinary medicines. This article concentrates on the impact of the food source provided to the most popular pets: cats and dogs.

Pre-pandemic it was estimated in the UK that 24% of adults owned a dog and 26% of adults owned a cat (Gallizi, 2021), since then this figure has increased to 33% and 27% respectively (Pet Food Manufacturers' Association (PFMA), 2021). Owning a pet has a number of benefits — they reduce illness such as heart disease and stress, increase fitness, reduce allergies and asthma in children, and increase social interactions (Swanson et al, 2013) Their environmental impact, however, is, to some owners, an important consideration. While larger pets and those with a meat-based diet have the highest cumulative environmental impact (Acuff et al, 2021; Gallizi, 2021), eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable choices have been shown to have increased in popularity in the pet food industry (Horton, 2021). The PFMA agreed in 2018 that various environmental sustainability areas needed to be focused on, including packaging recyclability, animal welfare, sustainability of ingredients, and the environmental impact of food production (PFMA, 2021). In addition, the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) developed the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR), a scale for measuring the environmental footprint of pet foods from ‘cradle to grave’, including considerations such as ecosystems, human health, climate change, natural resources and water use (FEDIAF, 2022a). This PEFCR document was endorsed by the European Commission and details the environmental footprint of each stage of production; it deems the ingredient sourcing and distribution as having the greatest impact on the environment, while the manufacturing process and packaging is the least impactful part in the pet food journey (FEDIAF, 2018).

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