Why Green Pet Food Matters
Never has the opportunity to feed your pet a nutritious, earth-friendly diet been better than now. From 2003 through 2011, Over 700 new natural or organic pet food products made their way to store shelves. The first diet concern is nutrition. Adequate diets are formulated to “AAFCO standards” for your cat or dog. Many of the new brands can both improve your pet’s health and help the planet because the ingredients are grown in a sustainable way. Pet food affects Earth in three ways: (1) how ingredients are produced, (2) how much food our pets require, and (3) the proportion of ingredients used.
How Ingredients Are Produced
Organic farming and livestock rearing is always more planet-healthy than the factory farming methods developed in the 1950s. Those methods assured food for Americans and product for export to grow our economy. Large-scale farms and livestock production requires antibiotics, pesticides, and large amounts of fertilizer. No one knew in the beginning the cost of using these agents to our soil, air, water and health. We do now.
How Much Food Our Pets Require
Until the 1990s pet food was produced using human food manufacturing waste. Emphasis on pet health has pet owners feeding pets higher grades of food. In 2008, we fed our cats and dogs enough calories to support 668,000 people (think the population of Boston or Las Vegas). Pets increase the burden on agriculture.
The Proportion Of Ingredients We Choose
Diets that include fruits and vegetables are more environmentally friendly than an all-animal-based protein diets. It takes less energy and fewer resources to produce plant materials than animal products. Vegetarian diets not only correspond to philosophical attitudes toward the treatment of animals, but also are also the most planet-friendly, requiring the fewest resources from the planet. Eating lower on the food chain (“wheat instead of meat”) is more efficient. For each pound of ground beef that goes into a diet, the cow will have consumed the equivalent of 16 pounds of wheat and up to 2,500 gallons of water.
While many people choose to lead a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle to lessen their impact on the planet, most pets need some amount of meat. Dogs have a hard time with a vegetarian lifestyle because their bodies evolved with meat as the principal component of their diets. Although it is possible, with plenty of protein supplements, to feed dogs on a mostly vegetarian diet, veterinary and dog professionals do not advise it. Cats must eat meat to be properly nourished. Your dog’s and cat’s best health bet is an organic meat-based diet. If you want a pet that shares your vegetarian leanings, select a pet such as a bird, insect, or pocket pet, like a guinea pig.
Organic Vs. Natural: What’s The Difference
“Natural” foods are not “organic.” If manufacturers make a food with organic ingredients, even 70 percent organic ingredients, the package says so because the marketplace values and pays a higher price for organic products. When manufacturers do not use the word “organic,” it’s because they can’t. The good news about “natural” foods is that they probably don’t contain artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives that do nothing to help nutrition and sometimes mask a lower-quality product.
“Natural foods” do not reduce the burden on the planet in a significant way and offer pets no clear advantage, except for those pets affected by added artificial substances. However, natural foods are a step up from foods that add all sorts of artificial ingredients, and the quality of the ingredients in them is often very good. The hitch is that they aren’t produced by organic methods.
The Part Of The Package That Matters (Hint: It’s not the front)
To understand the nutritional value and calories in your pet’s food, see the back of package for list of ingredients and the guaranteed analysis, the parts of the labels that are regulated. If the ingredients listed puzzle you, check with a staff member in a good pet supply store, or consult the AAFCO or FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine websites.
Take A Look At Your Pet’s Diet
Take a look at the labels on your current pet food. If it is not “AAFCO” labeled, discuss a different diet with your vet, and while you’re at it, consider a more earth-friendly diet for your pet. (Note: Only cat and dog diets have AAFCO standards). If you’re leery of the cost of organic products, keep in mind better diets probably allow you to eliminate pet vitamin supplements.