Sales of eco-friendly pet food soar as owners become aware of impact | Environment

Eco-friendly pet food is on the rise as dog and cat owners become more aware of the impact of their beloved pet’s diet.

New figures released exclusively to the Guardian show that the number of pet food products containing Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified sustainable seafood has grown by 57% in the UK during the last five years, from 49 to 77. In the last year alone consumers bought more than 7m tins, pouches and packs of MSC-certified pet food.

Globally, pets consume about 20% of the world’s meat and fish, a number set to rise with the trend for consumers to feed them human-grade meat. An area double the size of the UK is used to produce dry pet food for cats and dogs each year, while approximately 3m tonnes of fish are used in pet food in the UK every year. Pet food is estimated to be responsible for a quarter of the environmental impacts of meat production, such as the release of greenhouse gases, phosphates and pesticides.

But there are now a growing number of environmentally friendly alternatives available. Dog food containing insects went on sale for the first time in 2019 and can be bought in high street pet food shops, and vegan brands are exploding. The market continues to grow as people realise the food their pets eat could increase their carbon emissions and contain meat from animals kept in poor welfare conditions.

A recent study found that vegan pet food is just as good for dogs and cats as meat. However, the British Veterinary Association still does not recommend feeding your pet a plant-based diet. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 also penalises pet owners if they fail to feed a “suitable diet” meeting their dog’s nutritional needs – a £20,000 fine or a 51-week jail sentence could ensue.

Andrew Knight, a professor of animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester, said at the time that his research showed that cats and dogs had as good or better health outcomes on plant-based diets as they did when fed on meat pet foods, provided these were carefully formulated with additional synthetic nutrients.

In general, fish has a lower carbon footprint than meat, according to research published in the journal Climate Change Nature, which found that for each kilogram of fish caught between one and five kilograms of carbon is produced while red meat production produces between 50 to 750kg of carbon per kilogram of meat.

However, it is vital that pet owners choose food containing fish that is not overfished, including Cornish sardines. There have also been concerns raised about salmon after investigations that have revealed the environmental impact of salmon farming. And recently the lack of oversight in the UK’s fish farms was revealed by Animal Equality.

Salmon is the most popular species for MSC-certified sustainable pet food containing fish, followed by cod, tuna, sardines and saithe. Newly launched pet food ranges include a prawn pet food product by McAdams, Cornish sardines by Aldi and a golden red fish product by Woofs.

George Clark, the MSC’s programme director for the UK and Ireland, said: “UK pet owners increasingly understand that caring for their furry friends also means looking after the wider environment. Fish species and marine wildlife around the globe are being put at risk as overfishing threaten our oceans. We also know that seafood often has a significantly lower carbon footprint than meat, so buying sustainable seafood products is one of the most positive choices that pet owners can make to help reverse this worrying trend.

“The Marine Stewardship Council recently introduced a Pet Food Brand of the Year award for the very first time at its annual awards this year, a response to the growing importance of sustainability for consumers of sustainable pet food products.”

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