Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mom's Looks At Pets' Environmental Footprint

Cat Eating From Crystal Bowl
© Olga Sapegina |
Scott Nash, MOM's Organic Market founder and CEO, had never given much thought to the impact cats and dogs have on the environment until he read an article by Brian Palmer in the Washington Post. The article cites the claim by sustainable-living gurus Brenda and Robert Vale that the environmental paw print of a medium-size dog is about double that of the average SUV.

To the owner of a chain of organic grocery stores that sells high-end natural pet food and says its purpose is to protect and restore the environment, this was not good news.

That was last spring, and now MOM's is taking action to increase transparency and sustainability in the pet food industry. Working in partnership with the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition, the first step is a survey asking existing and potential vendors whether their food contains leftover animal products from the human food system, if their seafood is certified sustainable by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch or similar, and whether their packaging is recyclable, recycled, compostable, and/or responsibly sourced.

In a press release, Lisa de Lima, vice president of grocery for the Rockville, MD-based chain, says the pet food industry purchases over 16.5 billion pounds of meat, poultry, seafood and grains to produce food products just for cats and dogs.

"As the demand for high-quality pet food grows, so does the confusion about the environmental significance of the industry," she says.

Cat and dog food used to be considered inherently sustainable because it used leftovers from the human food supply chain. But then consumers began questioning the quality of the ingredients in their animal companions' food, and "byproducts" became the third rail of the pet food industry. Today, the fastest growth in the industry is in the specialty channel where retailers offer mostly "natural" food that contains no byproducts.

But Palmer, who disagrees that a medium-sized dog's environmental impact is larger than an SUV's, suggests that maybe cats and dogs don't need, or even appreciate, food made from prime cuts of beef or white meat chicken breast. After all, meat is meat, and cats who hunt aren't all that picky about the parts of their prey that they eat. And some of the leftovers from human meat processing are rich in protein and fat, the most necessary components of a cat's diet.

Most raw cat food manufacturers already include some of those leftovers in their food in the form of ground bones and organ meat.

A spokesperson for MOM's said the survey is only the beginning of the grocery store chain's research.

"We're trying to get the facts and the science straight when it comes to sustainable pet food ingredients," she said. "We value not only the sustainability quotient of the ingredients, but the health of the animal as well.

"This entire project is to get the conversation started, to get a baseline for the 'hot spots' within the pet food industry and see where we can make impactful change to better our environment and improve the health our beloved pets."

As survey results come in, MOM's and PISC plan to develop a working group of retailers, consumers and pet food suppliers to fine-tune the questionnaire for use across the industry.

"Our goal is to source brands and products that hold an optimum balance between nutrition and sustainability," de Lima says in the press release.  "We want to give our customers peace of mind, knowing they've made the best choice for their pets and the environment."

So what do your cats eat? Do they demand chicken breast, or would they be just as happy with meat from a leg or thigh? We'd love to read about their favorite foods in the comments below.

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