Pet food might not be the first thing which comes to mind when we think about sustainability, but hear us out….
When looking at the carbon impact of meat, we tend to focus on our own impact. However, the food we provide for our pets also contributes to the problem. Substituting insect protein for meat could be a way to off-set some of this damage.
Pet food is a silent contributor to the climate crash. We regularly give our pets – specifically cats and dogs – a high meat and high protein diet, which is harmful to the atmosphere and the biosphere.
In the United States, 25-30% of the environmental impact of the meat industry can be traced to pet food, and much of the advanced economic nations of the world would have similar practices. The attitude in China is also changing; the Western practice of pet ownership is beginning to establish itself there, along with the problem it generates.
Pets themselves are not exactly sustainable – according to Robert and Brenda Vale, an average sized dog can have a bigger ecological footprint than a large car. What we feed them is a significant part of this, and many leading pet food companies are adamant that we provide our pets with an unnecessarily high quality of produce – the most likely reason being that this comes at a considerably higher profit for those companies in question. A study by Kelly Swanson and co. in 2013 found that influenced consumerism tended to control what we buy for our pets above and beyond their actual nutritional requirements.
Although cats (and, to a lesser degree, dogs) do require more meat in their diet than humans, grains and vegetables can be integrated into pets diets more than is commonly aware (in fact, it appears that dogs have evolved to better metabolise grain diets). There are trends developing which focus on creating vegan pet foods – a company called Wild Earth are one of the leaders here – whilst there is also hope that the revolution of lab grown meat will also influence pet food production further down the line. In the meantime, using insects as a meat/protein substitute may be a viable option.
A UK company – Yora – is trying to subvert mainstream assumptions by providing alternatives to the standard pet feed, by using black soldier fly larvae. Another company, Chippin, is investing in insects, beginning with dog treats but with a vision to move further. Mass production however still requires an upscaling of the current insect farmers, as well as a campaign to convince pet-owning consumers.
But why insects? For the amount of food and protein that they provide, insects require significantly less land, water, and sustenance; insects convert their own diet into body mass at a capacity that far exceeds livestock. Farms can be extended vertically and are unhampered by weather. Hormones and antibiotics are not introduced into the lifecycle of insects, and they themselves create relatively little emissions. And bugs can even be fed on our own food leftover (of which we generate a LOT), therefore creating a cycle where there is little actual waste.
Integrating insects into our own culinary lifestyles is challenging, not least because there has been a shift away from eating these creatures in much of the world over recent history. Introducing entomophagy (insect consumption) into the diets of our pets, however, looks to be win-win. More research on how these nutrients are absorbed in cats and canines is required, but studies so far seem positive. Our domestic animals get what they need from their meals, and we offset a large amount of environmental damage.