The Sustainable Pet Manifesto

A CASE FOR A BETTER APPROACH TO PET FOOD


We started Petaluma to provide pet owners (like us!) with peace of mind that they are providing the best care for both their pets and the planet.

Despite having hundreds of options in the pet store, we found that the vast majority of dog foods forced us to choose between quality and sustainability for our two very loved pups. Should we pick the lower-quality diets that use up-cycled meat by-products or the meat-heavy, human-grade diets that come with a major environmental and animal welfare burden?

With experience in animal health research at a large pet care company, we knew this was an unnecessary trade-off. Sustainable pet food can address the daunting environmental and ethical issues of the food industry without sacrificing quality.

Petaluma is pet food for those who view their pets as family and also feel responsible for reducing their impact on the planet and its inhabitants. 

IN SUMMARY:

  • What we choose to grow for food - and how we choose to grow it - has a massive impact on environmental and animal welfare. We can take huge steps toward combating climate change, conserving water and natural land, and alleviating animal suffering by making more sustainable and humane choices about what we eat.

  • Dogs eat a surprisingly large amount of food and a disproportionate amount of animal protein. All together, U.S. dogs eat as much food as 40 million Americans and as much meat as all 80 million humans in California, Texas, and Pennsylvania combined [1]. Feeding one dog traditional kibble generates as much annual greenhouse gas as a round-trip flight from New York to Paris, uses as much water as filling two swimming pools, and requires more than one football field’s worth of farmland [2].

  • Traditional pet food - even premium brands - relies on animal protein raised in factory farms and prioritizes lower ingredient costs over all else, including sustainability and humane practices [3]. The majority of animal ingredients in dog food - including “by-product” - can be eaten by humans and increase the overall demand for animal agriculture. [4] While pet food does reduce some food waste by using ingredients that are not considered safe for human consumption, in doing so the pet food industry subsidizes the poor care of livestock by buying animals that fall ill or prematurely die due to their inhumane living conditions .

  • Swapping animal products for organic, plant-based, and nutritionally-complete ingredients can dramatically reduce your dog’s environmental footprint. Dogs co-evolved with humans, including adaptations to digest plant-derived carbohydrates that enabled them to thrive on an omnivorous diet much like our own [5]. Leading nutritionists agree that dogs’ nutritional needs can be met by a carefully-designed, plant-based diet [6, 7]. Replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives in our diet reduces your dog’s diet-related greenhouse emissions by 75%, water use by 50%, and land use by 90% [2].

  • Feeding your dog a plant-based dog food is a low-effort, high-impact way to live more sustainably. While many eco-friendly lifestyle changes can be expensive (buying a more fuel-efficient car) or tough to make stick (reducing meat in your own diet), switching to more sustainable dog food is simple, affordable, and impactful. 

  • Taking animals out of the dog food supply chain is the right thing to do. Factory farming, and the inhumane conditions that come with it, is a symptom of the low cost we’re accustomed to paying for meat. Reducing meat consumption, especially low-cost meat that ends up in pet food, is a straightforward solution to reduce animal suffering.

FOR THOSE WANTING TO TAKE A DEEPER DIVE:

“What you eat” is the new “what you drive” in taking personal action to sustain our planet.

Food is at the center of our relationship with the world around us. Deciding what to eat is one of the most significant personal choices we make about how to use the world’s finite land and resources. When you choose to eat more sustainable and humane food options, you are directly influencing how over two football fields worth of land are managed and how thousands of animals are treated [8].

These decisions have an amplified impact when they are made as a group. When companies cater to the collective demand for more sustainable and humane food options, they create systematic changes in our agricultural systems. Pet food companies buy $7 billion of agricultural products from American farms every year, and in doing so exert a major influence on what we farm and how we farm it [9].

Through Petaluma, we hope to reshape the agricultural industry to become more sustainable and compassionate.

U.S. dogs eat over 12 billion pounds of commercially-prepared dog food every year, and producing that food leaves a major footprint.


American dogs consume as much caloric energy (i.e. food) as the 40 million humans in California and as much animal-derived caloric energy (i.e. meat & animal by-products) as the 80 million people in California, Texas, and Pennsylvania [1]
We saw a fraction of that massive production firsthand at a pet food processing facility of Garrett’s former employer, where tractor-trailers arrived every few minutes carrying ingredients and hauling away the final product. You’d need over 250,000 18-wheelers to transport that much pet food from the hundreds of pet food factories around the U.S. [9]

The amount of food we feed our dogs can be deceiving, as it usually comes in dry kibble with highly concentrated calories. One cup contains as many calories as a 6-inch sub sandwich [10]. In traditional dog food, over half of those calories come from animal ingredients, which require 5 to 25 times more land, water, and energy to produce than plant-based ingredients. [1, 2

As a result, just that one cup of traditional dog food requires over 40 gallons of water and 80 sq ft of farmland to produce, and is responsible for the emission of 3 lbs of greenhouse gases (as much as the electricity to run your fridge for the entire day) [2]. 

Over the course of a year, your dog’s food is one of the most resource-intensive items in your entire household. The global demand for animal products to feed ourselves and our pets is a major driver of natural habitat destruction and climate change (cow and sheep belching is a surprising culprit) [25]. Rethinking how we feed our pets must be a part of any strategy to slow and reverse the degradation of our natural resources.

The vast majority of pet food ingredients come from industrialized farms that take shortcuts to survive in a brutally competitive industry.

Pet owners are accustomed to paying very little for pet food, and the pet food industry has consistently prioritized sourcing ingredients at the lowest possible cost. In some cases, these cost-cutting measures are sustainable in that they up-cycle food products that would otherwise be wasted. This included the widespread use of meat from “retired” horses as a pet food ingredient until the 1970s and, to this day, the inclusion of meat from ‘4D’ livestock - dead, dying, diseased, or disabled - that is not considered safe for human consumption by the USDA [4, 11]. 

As we’ve shifted towards treating pets as family members that share our homes, our tolerance for feeding them sustainable-but-grotesque (and sometimes unsafe) food waste has waned. Many dog owners now insist on feeding their dogs real, fresh, and even “human-grade” meat rather than by-product, but are willing to pay only a fraction of what they’d pay for their own food. To meet that need, traditional pet food uses the cheapest ingredients without regard for quality, sustainability, or welfare.

Kibble looks ‘brown and round’ no matter how little care was taken in growing the ingredients, and pet owners have been largely unaware of the true costs of the actions taken to keep the price low.

As dogs became family members, the animals we feed them became meat machines

Even the most compassionate dog owner may be unaware of the standard practices of concentrated animal feeding operations (commonly called factory farms) that subject animals to deplorable conditions. The industry norm is to pack animals into unnaturally small spaces and then use drugs and body mutilation (de-beaking, tail docking, etc.) to lessen the inevitable spread of disease and anxiety-induced aggression [12-14].  

Many sustainable farms - whether certified or not - have developed methods to break the cycle of using more synthetic chemicals to boost the soil and eke out productivity gains.
The way we grow crops at a large scale can create problems. Crop fields in intensive agricultural systems grow the same few species of plants year after year to increase efficiency. This requires the land to be treated with synthetic pesticides and fossil fuel-based fertilizers to compensate for the loss of disease-fighting biodiversity and the depletion of soil nutrients. While these methods can yield slightly more crops than organic methods, conventional practices often mortgage the future productivity of our land to pay for short-term gains. [15, 16]


When over half of farms are not breaking even and the largest 10% of farms account for 99%+ of the profit, there isn’t time or money to try a different approach [17]. The pet food industry’s sole focus on providing grain-fed meat at a low cost leaves farmers with no cushion to invest in more sustainable or humane agricultural practices.  

Fortunately, there is a clear and simple solution to the environmental and ethical challenges of pet food. We can make dog food much more sustainable simply by switching to plant-based and organic ingredients.

Feeding plant-based food is not a sacrifice for you or your dog.

Petaluma diets are designed by veterinary nutritionists who have created recipes in accordance with the gold standard of canine nutrition.
Plant-based ingredients provide complete nutritional profiles, have been eaten for thousands of years, are liked by dogs, and cost the same or less than parts of animals.

A body of academic and real-world evidence shows that dogs thrive on a well-planned, plant-based diet [6, 7, 18]. We’ll spend more time discussing the biology and science behind canine diets in future posts, but the key finding that led us to pursue a plant-based ingredient list was the endorsement of top animal nutrition academics who have the deepest understanding of the science [6, 19-20]. Many leading veterinary nutritionists not only state that plant-based diets can provide complete and balanced nutrition, but also prescribe them to patients to alleviate food allergies and kidney issues.

We have a team of credentialed veterinary nutritionists designing, reviewing, and refining our diets to meet the best-in-class guidelines that reflect the current consensus of expert nutritionists [21]. While using exclusively plant-based ingredients requires some additional considerations around protein balance, there are plenty of high-quality ingredient options to deliver nutritionally-complete and meat-free formulas.

We're not asking your dog to eat a salad.

In addition to using flavorless meat meals, traditional dog kibble is pressure-cooked at high heat, which turns any meaty aroma into a flavorless brick. Most dog kibble is coated with flavoring dust to taste good (much like a Cheeto). Petaluma beats those diets in head-to-head taste tests by roasting tasty ingredients in an oven at a lower temperature. Oven-baking preserves the natural savory flavors of plant-based foods that dogs love, like peanut butter and sweet potato, which are lost during traditional pressure cooking. It also reduces the loss of nutrients that occurs when you cook some ingredients at high heat.

It’s a win-win: sustainably-grown ingredients and a happy and healthy dog.

Substituting for plant-based ingredients dramatically lower your dog’s environmental pawprint.

Feeding Petaluma to two Chihuahuas (and they often come in pairs) has the same climate impact as commuting to work on a bike vs. a car one day per week - and it will certainly feel easier than pedaling up a San Francisco hill. [24]

Dog food is an excellent place to focus our sustainability efforts because a single, affordable choice about what we feed our pets can shape how a giant portion of our land and resources are used. Other steps that you can take to get comparable environmental and animal welfare benefits are often much more expensive, inconvenient, and inconsistent. For example:

Switching a Golden Retriever (or any other ~70 lb good dog) to Petaluma reduces greenhouse emissions as much as forgoing two round-trip cross-country flights [22]. While taking a local vacation isn’t a bad idea, feeding your dog a different tasty food is more feasible than skipping a friend’s out-of-state wedding. 

Each day that a dachshund eats our food saves as much water as what you wash down the drain in the shower. Filling a Bernese Mountain Dog’s bowl with Petaluma saves as much water every year as what it takes to water a grass lawn in a dry climate. [23]

We all know how difficult it can be to meaningfully change our own diets, whether for health, sustainability, or compassion. It took us two years to cut meat, eggs, and dairy from our diets, and we often felt like our only options were meals deficient in nutritional quality or taste. With Petaluma, we can provide dogs with one food that makes them happy, has been carefully planned to meet their nutritional requirements, and meaningfully lightens the load we’re placing on the planet. 

The biggest obstacle to pet food sustainability is the conventional wisdom created by years of cynical pet food marketing.

As with human nutrition, no company has a monopoly on nutritional science, and straying from the expert consensus is more likely to cause harm than discover a better approach. Pet food companies step onto extremely thin ice, both legally and scientifically, when they assert their food is healthier than others. Most just call their food “healthy” or “natural” and leave the implication to the consumer’s imagination. To stand out from the pack, brands sell simplified stories, namely the idea that your dog is a wolf and should be fed like one. We’ll touch on this in later posts, but dogs are 1) not wolves, 2) are omnivores, and 3) have significant DNA-level differences that give them the ability to digest starches and carbohydrates [6]. These genetic adaptations enabled dogs to be omnivorous and nourish themselves with our often plant-based food scraps rather than competing with us for scarce and valuable meat. 

Nevertheless, companies compete by trying to ‘out-meat’ each other and equate meat with a more “natural” diet. Brands slapped pictures of wolves on their bags, added more animal ingredients, removed grains with no nutritional justification, and used ad budgets to create the misguided conventional wisdom that this was healthier. 

Conventional wisdom about pet nutrition has been shaped by marketing stories rather than experts and evidence.

 

Leo patiently waiting for Petaluma. Coming fall 2020!

As a result, the amount of animal ingredients in pet food, and particularly the parts of animals most in competition with human preference, is rapidly climbing at a time that we can ill-afford to increase our reliance on industrialized animal agriculture.

Going against conventional wisdom is challenging, and trying to counter hundreds of millions of advertising dollars espousing the meat gospel will be a fight. But with nutritional science and happy dogs on our side, we believe Petaluma can create real change in our food systems with the support of pet owners who want the best for their dogs and the planet. 

While you can expect our first food offering this fall, you can keep tabs on our progress (and our serious taste-testers) on our Instagram and newsletter. Sign up to stay in the loop!

REFERENCES

 

1 Total caloric energy consumption for U.S. based on https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0181301 Food defined as caloric energy.

2 Petaluma life cycle assessment comparing the greenhouse gas, blue water, and land use of the average dog food raw ingredients, transformation, transportation, and packaging (based on industry data) and a Petaluma diet

3 Analysis of USDA Census of Agriculture (2017) animal inventory and the FDA’s definition of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations suggests 95%+ of livestock consumed are raised in CAFOs, including 95-99% of poultry and pigs and  ~70% of cattle.

 

4 Industry data shows that ~5% of rendered animal products come from animals that die prematurely and are thus unsafe for human consumption. Premature death in livestock is primarily driven by preventable respiratory disease caused by overcrowding and inhalation of feces. Despite scientific advancement in animal health, premature animal mortality has increased over the past 30 years for both cattle and pigs as more animals are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations with poor welfare standards.

5 Genomic analysis study showing the development of adaptation to digest starches, which is correlated with the beginning of dog domestication https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11837

6 Perspective on feeding a dog a meatless diet from Dr. Cailin Heinz, a Professor of Veterinary Nutrition at Tufts University https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2016/07/vegan-dogs-a-healthy-lifestyle-or-going-against-nature/

7 Review of landscape of research and studies pertaining to health implications of feeding companion animals a plant-based diet https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5035952/

 

8 Based on baseline Western diet land usage estimate (1.02 hectares) from https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116/

9 Industry report using Neilson data commissioned by pet food supplier and pet food manufacturing associations https://www.petfoodinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/20200310-Pet-Food-Report-FINAL.pdf. Tractor-trailer estimate based on 45,000 lb weight limit of standard 53 ft. trailer.

10 50% of standard recipe Subway sandwiches have fewer calories than a cup of Iams Adult dry dog food (353 calories per cup).

11 History of horse meat in dog food - https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/06/horse-meat/529665/

 

12 Report commissioned by a pork trade group detailing the common use of tail docking and the acute pain it appears to cause in pigs https://www.pork.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/06-183-MCGLONE-TxTech.pdf

13 Veterinary association report reviewing the welfare tradeoffs of beak modifications - https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/literature-reviews/welfare-implications-beak-trimming

14 Chicken industry data cites 0.8 square feet per boiler chicken in a cage-free system, with 20,000+ animals in a single enclosure https://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/industry-issues/animal-welfare-for-broiler-chickens/

15 Meta-analysis suggests conventional farming method yields are 10%-80% higher than organic farming. https://ourworldindata.org/is-organic-agriculture-better-for-the-environment

16 Purpose of organic agriculture is to consider the medium- and long-term effect of agricultural interventions on the agro-ecosystem http://www.fao.org/organicag/oa-faq/oa-faq6/en/

 

17 USDA farm income data shows that 90% of U.S. farming operators earn less than $5,000 in annual farm-related income (with over 50% actually losing money on farm operations), while the largest 10% of farms earn more than 100% of total industry profit (accounting for the losses incurred by smaller farms) https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=58426    

18 Study demonstrating healthy biomarkers in group of dogs fed a meat-free diet during intense physical activity (sled racing) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19480731

19 Perspective of Dr. Ryan Yamka, a veterinarian board-certified in nutrition; https://www.petfoodindustry.com/blogs/10-debunking-pet-food-myths-and-misconceptions/post/6549-your-dog-is-not-a-wolf-pet-food-companies-take-note

20 Perspective of Dr. Anna Shoveller, a professor of animal biosciences at the University of Guelph - https://www.guelphtoday.com/local-news/feed-your-dog-vegetables-help-save-the-world-794016

 

21 Petaluma is formulated to meet AAFCO standards, as well as FEDIAF guidelines and the recommendations outlined in the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (2006)

22 Based on Petaluma life-cycle assessment of average dog kibble and assumption that the dog consumes 1312 kcal / day (70 lb maintenance energy). Airline emissions based on DEFRA estimate of 0.13 kg C02e per passenger-kilometer for medium-haul commercial airline flight (2000-4000 km). Assumes single car travels <50 miles for a local vacation versus 1,500+ km flight distance for domestic travel (round trip from Los Angeles to Denver or further).

23 Assumes average shower water throughput of 2.1 gallons per minute and average shower time of 8.2 min / person / day. Assumes lawn requires 1” of irrigation per week (0.66 gallons / sqft) during the dry growing season, and that the lawn is irrigated for 5 months of the year (May - September).\

24 Based on EPA’s estimated average gas efficiency of cars on the road in 2017 (22.3 mpg) and 8.99 kg of C02e emissions per gallon of gasoline. Uses Department of Transit estimate of 30 miles average daily commute and an average of 261 workdays per year. Biking assumed to have no greenhouse gas emissions.

25 https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2016/01/14/stopping-the-big-burp