What’s the carbon footprint of your pet? According to a new study, it might be larger than you’d expect.
The study, published earlier this month in PLOS One, examines the environmental impact of pets — specifically, their diets. According to the study’s author, UCLA professor Gregory Okin, approximately 25 – 30% of the carbon emissions related to meat production in the United States — roughly 64 million tons of carbon dioxide — can be attributed to meat consumed by pets.
The food we feed our pets, just like the food we feed ourselves, is made up of ingredients that are grown and produced from a variety of sources. Some of those sources (e.g., meat) require more energy and resources than others (e.g., vegetables) to produce. Consequently, foods that contain more resource intensive ingredients also carry a larger impact on the environment.
The study’s results come at a time when the pet food industry is heavily engaged in improving sustainability but also as consumers’ demand for grain-free pet foods is higher than ever. So what can consumers do to reduce the environmental impact of their pets’ diets? According to the study’s author, there aren’t yet any clear, simple solutions.
“I like dogs and cats, and I’m definitely not recommending that people get rid of their pets or put them on a vegetarian diet, which would be unhealthy. But I do think we should consider all the impacts that pets have so we can have an honest conversation about them. Pets have many benefits, but also a huge environmental impact.”
— Gregory Okin, Professor, UCLA
According to Okin, part of the increased environmental impact of pets is cultural in nature. Trends like humanization, in which pet owners seek out human-quality products and services for their pets, are resulting in more resource-intensive ingredients going into pet foods. As humanization continues to be a driving force in the United States, China, and Brazil, Okin expects the environmental impact of pets to increase there as well.
While shifting dogs and cats to vegetarian diets is out of the question for Okin and others, he does suggest the use of alternative protein sources and safe meat byproducts as a possible way to reduce the environmental impact of pet foods. However, for consumers used to giving their pets human-quality foods, that may be a tough suggestion to swallow.