Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Advocates of sustainability look to examine every aspect of our lives and question whether something is compromising the future of society for the sake of current convenience.
Researchers at the University of Illinois, in conjunction with pet food maker The Nutro Company, have decided to look into pet ownership and see if the feeding habits of pet owners are sustainable in a new study published in the journal Advances in Nutrition.
Examining the sustainability of pet food is complicated because its production is linked with many aspects of human food production.
As a product, pet food is unique because it is necessary for pets, but owners will only purchase what is affordable. Also, pet foods are often formulated in an appeal to an owners’ sensibility and not necessarily made with a pet’s health in mind.
The study’s authors also note overfeeding as a problem among pet owners. Besides contributing to a pet’s obesity, overfeeding wastes food.
“They’re being fed as much as 20 percent more than they need, so their health is poor, and you’re wasting all that food,” said co-author Kelly Swanson, University of Illinois animal sciences researcher. “Especially with cats, it’s very difficult.”
In the study, the researchers noted dogs and cats require specific nutrients, not ingredients. Many pet foods contain animal protein in an appeal to pet owners; however, studies have shown animal protein can be replaced by plant protein without any noticeable effect to pet health. Soy-based proteins typically require less water and energy for their production, which can be six to 20 times more efficient in terms of fossil fuel demands.
The researchers also noted pet food is often made from secondary products of human food production.
“That’s great from a sustainability standpoint because we’re using the products that would otherwise not be used,” Swanson said.
The study also discussed nutritional sustainability, which involves promoting pet health, safety and food quality
“Advancement in areas of nutritional sustainability will help us develop innovative products to improve pet health and nutrition and produce quality and safe pet food,” said co-author Rebecca Carter, research scientist at The Nutro Company. “Nutritional sustainability is part of a wider sustainability platform to improve the sustainability of our products and promote the sustainability of pet ownership and the pet food industry.”
Swanson suggested the development of a model to estimate the environmental impact of pet foods and to create a standard for future sustainability strategies.
With pet ownership increasing in emerging nations, the study’s authors see sustainable pet ownership as more important than ever, adding that research which shows the positive impact pets have on people around them only reinforces the notion of caring for pets in a sustainable manner.
In their conclusion, the researchers said they hope to inform the dialogue surrounding pet ownership, noting there aren’t ‘bad’ or ‘good’ practices – just more or less sustainable ones.
With pet food being a $55 billion industry worldwide, the establishment of sustainable practices could have a global impact financially.