Most traditional dog food is neither eco-friendly nor sustainable. Considering that our furry four-legged friends require a nutritious, well-balanced diet full of protein, fats, minerals, and vitamins, it only makes sense that dog food manufacturers mostly use grain and livestock in their blends. This poses unique environmental challenges.
From farm to dog bowl, the entire process of producing dog food is taxing the environment by consuming enormous quantities of water and non-renewable resources. Alternative dog food products do exist to help solve this problem, so it’s worth looking at some of these alternatives to learn more about our options for a greener future.
Firstly, we really ought to frame the question as “how eco-friendly is traditional dog food compared to other alternatives?” Only then can we see some drastic differences that may surprise you.
Wasteful Practices in Modern Agriculture
It’s estimated that a quarter of the environmental impact of all meat production goes towards pet food alone, which includes an enormously wasteful amount of water, land, non-renewable energy, and pesticides. Combine this with the fact that 40 per cent of households in the UK own a pet (25 per cent of which dogs) and it’s clearly an area of concern in terms of environmental sustainability.
Another trend that’s adding strain to the environment comes down to culinary taste. In many developed nations, people have increasingly shunned offal, tripe, liver, and other non-choice cuts of meat on their dinner plates in past decades whilst demanding more high-quality cuts. This has worked its way into dog food as well, with gourmet brands of dog food offering lavishly epicurean meals such as boeuf bourguignon.
All of this comes at a cost. Not only are these fancy feasts commanding designer prices but they’re also contributing to the increase in global consumption of livestock. Even if most dog food blends use animal byproducts that we wouldn’t dare eat, it’s still incredibly taxing on the environment.
It’s What’s Inside That Counts... Sometimes
Taking a more holistic look at the entire ecological footprint of dog food illustrates the need for more environmentally-friendly and sustainable practices. The actual contents in a package of dog food make up around 75 per cent of its environmental impact, with the remainder going to transport (16%), packaging (4%), and processing (3-4%). Let’s review these briefly.
- Transport: from raising the livestock to meat processing centres to your dog bowl, transport consumes plenty of resources such as fossil fuels.
- Packaging: single-use plastics are great for their convenience and ability to retain vital moisture within the bag, but they’re certainly not sustainable. In fact, many such plastic products will be outlawed by the EU in 2021. Many eco-friendly dog food companies have begun using composite materials that are better for the environment whilst retaining the freshness and quality required for their dog food.
- Processing: meat and grain processing are resource-intensive activities not only in terms of non-renewable resources, but also in water and land use intensity. If we continue using water as-is for conventional livestock farming, 33 per cent of the world’s population will likely live in water-scarce areas as a consequence.
For each of these points, you may be wondering if there’s a better way of going about producing eco-friendly dog food. And there is. Alternative dog food manufacturers are part of a growing niche worldwide, with many producing plant-based vegetarian options as well as insect-based dog food, for example.
Is insect-based food a possibility for the future? A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ratcheted up a fair bit of controversy. To be fair, many of us wouldn’t leap (no pun intended) at the chance to swap burgers for grasshoppers, but it’s nonetheless becoming an appealing option for both humans as well as for pets.
Insects are rich in nutrients. Most insects are themselves a complete protein and have dietary fibre, unsaturated fat, vitamins such as B12 and riboflavin, and essential minerals.
How does it stack up to beef? A study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition ranks mealworms and crickets, two major insect types commonly used for pet food, as having significantly higher nutritional value scores when compared to chicken, beef, and other traditional ingredients.
Another benefit of insect-based diets is the presence of Taurine. This organic compound is frequently lacking in cats, and pet food manufacturers either omit Taurine or add it to synthetic blends afterwards. Insects just so happen to contain sufficient quantities of Taurine to help our little ones live healthier lives.
There’s plenty of promise for insect-based pet foods, with the president of the British Veterinary Association, Simon Doherty, supporting insect protein for household pets as an alternative to traditional meat-based pet foods.
Environmental Impact of Insect-Based Pet Food
Insects need land and resources to farm, process, and transport, resulting in some environmental impact. In that sense, it’s just like livestock farming except it’s vastly less resource-intensive. How much? Orders of magnitude!
To produce the same amount of protein as with livestock farming, insects consume 2,000x less water, 17x less land, and produce 100x less greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, insect farms such as Entomo Farms have adopted efficient practices of farming crickets that are not only better for the environment but also in the treatment of the insects. The way in which animals are treated is becoming more and more of an issue globally, especially when it comes to the slaughter of cattle, chicken coops, and other forms of treatment that are considered by many to be inhumane.
For those worried about the treatment of insects, however, farms such as Entomo Farms have adopted free-range principles. Crickets like to be in dark and warm places, so they could just be tossed into a plastic bin and processed after maturing (6-8 weeks). Instead, these crickets live in ‘cricket condos’ whereby they’re permitted to freely hop between feed stations and to burrow until they’ve matured.
But What About the Taste?
Dogs may have less sensitive taste buds when compared to humans, but it’s certainly obvious when your canine companion isn’t interested in what you’ve put in his dog bowl. Dog food manufacturers have been aware of this for a long time and have found plenty of creative ways of flavouring dog food in more appealing ways.
When it comes to insects, however, how will your dog react? The flavour profiles of crickets and mealworms are classified as ‘nutty’ and have a cocoa-like organic smell to them. Insect food was certainly good enough for Skwiff, the BBC Science Labrador.
Is Insect-Based Dog Food the Future?
The fear of an unsustainable global population with regards to agriculture by Malthus never came to fruition thanks to innovations in agricultural technology. In modern times, however, the concern is less about sustaining over seven billion people but rather the impact that our agricultural (and dietary) customs are having on the earth’s limited resources.
Environmental challenges do have a silver lining: they’re incentivising the creation of ideas and products that can help minimise and alleviate the rapid deterioration of our environment. This is why insect food is being increasingly looked to as a potential solution to the wasteful practices of livestock farming.
This is why Bug Bakes proudly markets itself as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional dog food. With studies confirming the benefits of insect-based diets and the ability to meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cats alike, insect-based dog food is the sensible choice for those concerned about improving the environment and helping Mother Nature.
Contact Bug Bakes for Eco-Friendly Dog Food and Treats
The future of pet food is coming, and with Bug Bakes’ eco-friendly dog food and treats it can come directly to your front door! Order our food online today or get in touch with us if you have any enquiries about our products.