ARLINGTON, VA. — Like other sectors, the animal food industry has been swept up in the global push toward climate action. Modern environmental impact mitigation efforts, feed management practices, nutritional advancements and animal welfare standards are helping the industry walk this path.

As part of its 2022-23 State of the US Animal Food Industry report, the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) highlighted known environmental successes of this industry and how the organization is supporting continued improvement.

Historically, the pet food manufacturing sector has been heralded as sustainable due to its use of coproducts from other industries. According to the AFIA, approximately 113.6 million tons of materials are saved from landfills annually to be used in animal food production. Through this, an estimated 61.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 7.4 million tonnes of methane emissions are avoided.

The AFIA also shared that hens today are producing 27% more eggs daily while using 50% less feed, compared to known ratios 60 years ago. Another example — in 1959, the AFIA stated eight pigs were needed to produce 1,000 lbs of pork, whereas today it only takes five pigs to achieve the same amount.

However, animal feed still makes up a huge portion of the entire animal agriculture industry’s total environmental impact, with global estimates ranging between 42% and 78% depending on species, according to the association. According to 2017 study by Gregory Okin, Ph.D., published in PLOS ONE journal, dog and cat diets specifically make up between 25% and 30% of environmental impacts from animal production when considering land, water and fossil fuel use, among other things.

These things considered, taking a unified approach to the industry’s sustainability strategies is essential for achieving real climate action.


Uniting the industry

The AFIA’s Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER) introduced its Sustainability Road Map Project in February 2023. As part of this project, the institute created the Animal Food Industry Sustainability Toolkit that provides resources for companies looking to start their sustainability journeys.

“We developed it as a step-wise approach that we call crawl, walk and run,” said Lara Moody, executive director of IFEEDER, at the Animal Agriculture Sustainability Summit on Jan. 24, held during the 2023 International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE). “There’s a little something in there for everyone. It’s not to say those steps have to be performed in that order, but it’s a place for folks to start.”

The toolkit features more than 20 tools, such as instructions on how to conduct a materiality assessment, insights for building business cases for sustainability, message mapping to help with communication efforts, and a scientific literature review highlighting environmental actions that have already been taken by the global animal food industry.

IFEEDER created the resource upon partnering with The Context Network to identify gaps in knowledge and data that must be stitched together for the industry to see real progress. Representing the second part of its Sustainability Road Map Project, the institute is currently working with and seeking additional animal food industry partners to collaboratively develop and advance their sustainability goals and strategies.

Aside from its work with IFEEDER, the AFIA also cooperates with the Global Feed LCA Institute (GFLI) to aid in the establishment of globally accepted standards for conducting life cycle analyses (LCAs) for animal feed.

“As part of GFLI, the AFIA continues to educate members and industry stakeholders on current LCA tools, based on the latest scientific approaches in environmental footprinting and other technologies,” AFIA stated in the report. “These efforts will enable and accelerate the contributions of feed to reducing the overall environmental impact associated with the production of animal-sourced foods.”

Read more from AFIA's 2022-23 State of the US Animal Food Industry report, including industry challenges and trade opportunities.

Find other articles related to sustainability efforts in the pet food and treat industry.