BOULDER, COLO. — The Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) has released a new framework tool to help pet food processors recognize four key factors affecting the sustainability of protein sources. The framework considers the environmental and social impacts, nutrition, and animal welfare, and also provides tips for improving protein sustainability in pet food formulations.

PSC cited a research article published by George Okin that states dogs and cats consume roughly one-fourth of all animal-derived calories that are produced in the United States today. This hot topic in the industry encompasses environmental and economic factors including climate change, freshwater availability, and future regulation that would affect the cost, quality and availability of these ingredients.

While the organization stressed the importance of considering all four factors — environmental impacts, social impact, nutrition and animal welfare — when sourcing proteins, it also stated that “comparing impacts between the four factors can be like comparing apples to orange.” In other words, each company must determine how to prioritize these factors and implement them into their protein sourcing decisions.

The first factor, environmental impact, involves the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, biodiversity impacts, deforestation, and consumption of pesticides and fertilizers. PSC said it is estimated that dog and cat food accounts for 25% to 30% of total impacts from animal production, including land use, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and other indicators.

The second factor, social impact, considers the physical safety and wellbeing, economic sustainability, psychological safety, and cultural integrity and quality of life among any person involved in the production, transportation, storage or manufacturing of pet food proteins. Some key areas of concern here include risks of occupational injury or illness, unfair labor practices, exploitation and discrimination of minority groups.

The third factor is nutrition, which homes in on two key attributes: the presence of appropriate and necessary nutrients, and the absence of contaminants. This factor addresses formulating with excessive proteins, the risks of pet obesity, species-specific requirements of dogs and cats, and food safety.

PSC also touched on the sustainable disadvantages of human-grade meat, which may adhere to higher ingredient standards but is typically more expensive, unsustainable and competes with the human side of meat consumption. Additionally, the organization stated the emergence of several alternative protein sources — from plants and insects — is a promising sustainable solution.

“…Pet nutrition appears to be a promising area of improvement, with ongoing efforts to improve the regulatory standards and develop alternative diets,” PSC stated in the report.

The fourth and final factor, animal welfare, measures the “five freedoms of animal welfare” stated by the Animal Humane Society in 2021. These include freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from living in discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal species behavior; freedom from fear and distress.

By considering these four factors when making protein purchasing decisions, pet food manufacturers can play a more active role in the end-to-end sustainability of their products.

There are several avenues for improvement within each of the four factors. PSC partners with pet brands to help them measure, benchmark and advance the sustainability of their business practices, including eco-friendly protein sourcing.

Download the full report, “The 4-Factor Framework for Sustainable Protein Evaluation in Petfood.”

Read more about sustainability in the pet food and treat industry.