Sustainability: what does it mean to the pet food industry and our patients? - Veterinary Practice
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Sustainability: what does it mean to the pet food industry and our patients?

Lee Danks in the 5th in his series for Royal Canin looks at the issues surrounding sustainability

THE HUMAN POPULATION IS EXPECTED TO GROW TO NINE BILLION BY 20503, and assuming consumption habits continue as they currently are, this is expected to increase global demand for animal-derived protein.

Additionally, with pets so often seen as an extension to the family and a higher demand for high-quality food, owners are paying more and more attention to the ingredients in the food they select for their animals. This article will explore the legislation around pet food manufacturing and where the future might lie in helping to combat the growing meat consumption crisis.

There are more than 50 pieces of legislation governing the manufacture of pet food in the UK and in many instances, the regulations which apply to the food you and I eat applies similarly to animal feeds.

Pet food ingredients are after all often by-products of the human food industry and where animal-derived, these ingredients come from livestock slaughtered under veterinary supervision.

Manufacturers commonly use beef, lamb, poultry, pork, sh, rabbit and game and will select these based on nutrient profile, ingredient digestibility, desires for inclusion (or exclusion) and the capabilities of the production facility.

With many ingredient-based communications being made to owners, often used to guide product choices, it’s important to return to nutritional value and animal benefit when informing those who enter our practices.

From this basis of understanding, we can enter a conversation about sustainable ingredient sourcing. For those of us with a strong personal “sustainability drive”, seeking alternative ingredients need not lead to compromise when it comes to sufficiently meeting the nutritional needs of our pets. No matter where we are in either the food consumption or production chain, sustainable sourcing means ensuring to the best of our abilities that the ingredients we use have a positive impact on the local community and a limited impact on the ecosystems from which they are sourced.

One case study is that of sustainable fishing. Due to significant growth in the human consumption and market demand for fish, experts warn that many important sh populations could collapse before the year 2050*.

Make ingredients work harder

Pet food manufacturers can help by using fewer sh overall and making the ingredient “work harder”: to be more efficient by increasing the amount of protein sourced from each fish. Replacing vulnerable fish species with more sustainable species or alternative proteins is another change many manufacturers are exploring.

In recent history, Royal Canin moved from blue whiting to duck as a protein source for a popular dry product, reducing the dependence of fish by 65% without changing the nutritional content*. In taking this decision, sustainability in production can be upheld alongside environmental considerations without compromising the specifically balanced nutrients delivered to the cats and dogs we feed.

With nutritional content key, alternative ingredients must measure up to their traditional counterparts.

Dr Joseph Wakshlag, associate professor at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, notes that the world’s population is growing, and the planet’s resources will be challenged to provide both the grains and the livestock needed to keep it fed.

To meet consumer demand and while respecting environmental reality, the pet food industry must consider looking for proteins from rendering, vegetables, grains and unconventional animals.

Vegetable sources

Looking to the future of sustainable ingredient sourcing, vegetables such as land cress, purple kale, dandelion, red chard, brewer’s yeast and duckweed can all provide nutritious protein. Particularly duckweed, which is both abundant and high in protein and already used in pig and poultry diets.

Protein from non-livestock animals and fish may also be a long-term solution for the pet food industry. One current, commercially available diet (from the Netherlands) even incorporates insect-derived proteins in the formula.

Where this protein source has successfully been used to deliver essential amino acids in a digestible and palatable end product, there is a patent drive for other manufacturers to follow suit, assuming that the pet food market is open to such innovations.

Pet food producers are now working to address the anticipated gap between available meat-based proteins for pet food and the projected demand. Research and development centred on new approaches is crucial to address the issue of sustainability and, as ever, there must be no compromise in nutritional quality to ensure pets receive a healthy and balanced diet.

References and further reading

  1. Pet Food Industry (2016). Pet food’s future may depend on new, old proteins. [Online] Available from: [accessed 05/05/16].
  2. PFMA. Legislation. [Online] Available from: [accessed 05/05/16].
  3. United Nations (2013). World population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. [Online] Available from:…desa/news/population/un-report-world-population-projected-to-reach-9-6-billion-by-2050.html [accessed 05/05/16].
  4. World Health Organisation. Availability and changes in consumption of animal products. [Online] Available from: http://…foodconsumption/en/index4.html [accessed 16/05/16].

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