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Vegan Pet Food: Movement has the right environmental ideas, but might be bad for animal health

Posted on 28 June 2018 by Chris Bertenshaw0 comments

There are big trends in motion in the global pet food market. Customers looking for foods that are healthier for their pets, less damaging to the environment or more premium have been purchasing increasing amounts of products such as raw and vegan pet food stuffs. The issue however is complicated. Much of the science on what foods are truly safe to feed your pets is ambiguous and new trends like vegan pet food are largely unproven in their long-term effects. A considerable problem for both the industry and society at large, is pet food is estimated to be responsible for a quarter of the environmental impacts of overall meat production. Trying to find food stuff that is both healthy for animals and less damaging for the environment is the aim of many manufacturers now, but it is far from easy as pet nutrition is as complicated as human nutrition.

For both dogs and cats, the traditional logic has always been that high quality food should contain a large amount of meat and protein. Overall the principle behind this is logical, in that high meat diets would be all dogs and cats would have access to in the wild and the benefits can be largely proven, but it is not necessarily the case. Particularly with cats it is known that they are essentially obligate carnivores and therefore require meat in order to get a full complement of nutrients from their food and cannot correctly digest other sources.

A problem for the pet food industry though is that almost universally; consumers doubt the quality of pet food products and this is rooted in that standards of food production in the pet food industry are significantly lower than in the rest of the food industry. Off cut products from all manner of sources that are deemed unsuitable for human consumption find their way into pet foods.

In pet food, a trend has been expanding which focuses on trying to provide pets with an appropriate type of food for their bodies. This developed in to a trend that follows the principle of feeding dogs and cats raw foods. These can be food stuffs such as raw meat, minces, bones and fish, and these generally require a certain degree of preparation from consumers. There are multiple options for pet owners to follow this trend. They can either purchase their own cuts from human-grade meat suppliers such as supermarkets and butchers or a number of companies now offer frozen cuts of generally high quality human-grade meat for animals to consume, so in this way it can be a direct threat to the pet food industry.

A further development in the pet food world is that of vegan food stuffs being introduced as an alternative to meat based products. Initially the main focus for these kinds of products is customers who are vegans themselves and want to make sure their pets subscribe to their principles too. However, of more broad benefit for the pet food industry and society in general is the fact that in certain ways vegan pet food can in theory be much more beneficial for the environment. Meat production in general is one of the largest contributors to both CO2 emissions and destruction of forest and woodland areas.

Protein levels can be adequately reached with plant-based diets, so long as a particular dog is able to digest high-protein meat alternatives like legumes and beans, but not all can. However, the amino acids that are so bio available in meat provide much more of a challenge for manufacturers.

The Wild Earth Company is an example of a vegan producer that is attempting to produce a nutritious food stuff, but it will take a long time to prove that the fungus it is using as a meat replacement is not deficient in minerals and will never effectively be able to prove that it is more nutritious than an equivalent high quality meat product, so will struggle to convince buyers that are not vegan themselves. This factor is a long term issue for the emerging vegan pet food sector.

 

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Posted in Pet Care.

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