Today, sustainability is an important concern that includes social, economic and environmental responsibility. Conscientious business leaders ask not only “What’s best for my organization?” but also, “How can we be sure resources are managed to meet current and future needs of our industry and our planet?”
Yet, as the world grows more conscious of sustainable practices, the pet food industry is challenged to maintain its historic synergies with human food production—a relationship that has long resulted in a key component of sustainability: low waste.
As I noted in my recent article on this topic in PETS International, the pet food industry has long made use of animal parts the human food industry is challenged to use. These by-products are precisely the parts our carnivore pets like best! This results in a win-win in terms of cost and waste control for the two industries.
Palatant companies like AFB International also purchase waste-stream materials from the brewing, grain and dairy industries, expanding the circle of inter-industry benefits. Some 13.7 billion pounds of poultry by-products and more than 90 billion pounds of whey products are produced annually in the United States alone, so ensuring continued outlets for these materials is vital.
Members of the pet food industry have made great strides in weaving sustainability throughout their organizations. Among them:
• LEED-certified facilities. For example, AFB recently unveiled such a facility in Oss, Netherlands.
• Ingredient sourcing. Many companies are setting goals to define the proportion of ingredients to be derived from by-products and sustainable or local sources.
• Education. Countless community activities and learning opportunities related to sustainability are being supported by pet food industries around the globe.
However, improving our industry’s sustainability profile will require facing three key challenges:
• Consumer disfavor. The “humanization” of pets has led to greater pet owner demand for high-quality proteins—and growing concerns about the use of “animal by-products,” “offal” and GMO ingredients. This limits the industry’s ability to incorporate more sustainable ingredients and puts pet food in competition with human food for more costly ingredients. Educating consumers about the benefits of these traditional ingredients may help them make choices that are both appropriate and sustainable.
• Use of alternative ingredients. Capturing additional agriculture by-products like tomato pomace, alternative proteins like insects, and even food waste streams could benefit sustainability. However, these materials also present further challenges, such as the potential for contaminants and difficult flavor profiles.
• Competition from fuel producers. The increasing conversion of biomass from secondary agriculture products into fuel puts pet food producers in greater competition for some plant products. The impacts on availability and costs require that various material streams be used in synergy for the best results.
Creating the Future
As the industry moves away from relatively crude animal by-product digests towards more science-based, tailored flavor systems, we can’t lose sight of the sustainability that’s been fundamental to our industry since its inception. Success will require collaboration, accurate cost monitoring and consumer education—plus new innovation that takes into account the changing sustainability landscape.
Let’s start the collaboration today. What are your ideas for improving sustainability in the pet food industry? Post your thoughts here or email me at email@example.com.