Product sustainability has become a rising trend among consumers. A movement that has carried over into pet food, many pet owners are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and are looking to do their part when it comes to their pet’s food. Often the first step to making sustainable choices is to obtain reliable information on what ingredients, processing and packaging are the most environmentally friendly. We were fortunate enough to get some time to speak with industry expert Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry Magazine, to get some professional insight on sustainability in the pet food industry.
What is meant by the word “sustainable” and how does it relate to pet food?
Phillips-Donaldson: “Sustainability is being efficient and aware of how our actions now impact future generations. For pet food, consumers are looking for certain companies and making efforts to be more sustainable in ingredients and packaging. However, sustainability can be a part of all of a company's practices including operations and production. For example, the utilization of solar panels for processing energy or using less water in production.”
Why is it important for pet food companies to source sustainable ingredients?
Phillips-Donaldson: “A big factor is to make production more sustainable for future generations. For example, protein is used in large amounts in pet food but it is also a limiting ingredient. This will push the pet food industry to pursue alternative sources of protein apart from traditional animal meat. Another reason for pet food companies to source sustainably is to meet consumer expectations. With more consumers looking for sustainable products, it pressures pet food companies to change their production strategies and marketing messages in order to improve their bottom line and meet consumer demand.”
Can transportation or importation affect the sustainability of an ingredient?
Phillips-Donaldson: “Absolutely. Transportation, domestic or international, contributes to a lot of emissions. Emissions from combustion engines greatly contribute to global warming and therefore have a negative environmental impact. For companies looking to be more sustainable, sourcing ingredients locally helps to reduce emissions from transportation.”
What is your view on the use of insect protein as a sustainable ingredient in pet food?
Phillips-Donaldson: “The use of insect protein in pet food is much more sustainable. Insects require less land, water, and processing than animal protein to be produced for food. More research is needed for use in pet food however. Insect suppliers in Europe have begun studies but it is not yet approved as an ingredient in Canada and US. Consumer acceptance factor is also a hurtle. There is still a negative/fear perception of insects among some consumers.”
What are some ways pet food companies can reduce waste (from production to packaging)?
Phillips-Donaldson: “Processing, packaging and ingredients are the three big elements. Packaging is a big movement on their own. Extra packaging is good to improve shelf life but it is also less sustainable. Some companies are exploring biodegradable and recyclable options. Ingredients are also important to consider. Generally the use of by-product ingredients has a negative perception but they are actually very bioavailable and sustainable. Human-grade ingredients are less sustainable. By-products utilize ingredients that would otherwise be going to waste and can actually be quite digestible in dogs and cats. Lastly, for processing using more efficient energy sources helps to improve sustainability. Using less energy overall, contributes to less greenhouse gas emissions and water wastage.”
What is your advice to pet owners who are looking to source sustainable pet foods?
Phillips-Donaldson: “Companies who are actively involved in sustainable production will most likely advertise it. Looking on the company’s website and social media gives great insight on their stance on sustainability. If you cannot find the information you’re looking for, you can also ask the company directly through customer service. It is also important for consumers to educate themselves, ask questions and navigate through misinformation.”