URBANA There has been much talk about sustainability, but little attention has been paid to its nutritional aspects. University of Illinois animal sciences researcher Kelly Swanson, in cooperation with scientists at natural pet food maker The Nutro Company, have raised a number of important questions on the sustainability of pet ownership.
Sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present while not compromising the future. Swanson said that although the carbon footprint aspect of sustainability receives the most attention, nutritional aspects are also important. "If you just change the diet a little, the financial and environmental costs associated with it are quite different," he explained.
The pet food industry faces some unique issues. First, it is tightly interlinked with livestock production and the human food system. Second, many people consider their pets to be part of the family, so the food has to be culturally acceptable to the owner as well as good for the animal. Finally, pet food has to be affordable.
As with human food, dietary ingredient selection and nutrient composition affect the sustainability of the pet food system. Protein is expensive, both financially and environmentally, so the choice of protein source and amount in the diet are particularly important.
There are thousands of widely varying pet foods on the market. Many are formulated to appeal to the owners, who think their pets need extremely high levels of protein and other nutrients. Often, they contain human-grade ingredients, thus competing directly with the human food system, which will have to feed a human population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.
This does not need to happen. Dogs and cats require specific nutrients, not ingredients. It is possible to meet nutritional requirements using a wide variety of nutrient sources. Previous research by Swanson showed that kittens fed vastly different protein:carbohydra
|Contact: Susan Jongeneel|
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences