Nash, MOM’s Organic Market founder and CEO, had never given much
thought to the impact cats and dogs have on the environment until he
read an article by Brian Palmer in
the Washington Post. The article cites the claim by sustainable-living
gurus Brenda and Robert Vale that the environmental paw print of a
medium-size dog is about double that of the average SUV.
owner of a chain of organic grocery stores that sells high-end natural
pet food and says its purpose is to protect and restore the environment,
this was not good news.
That was last spring, and now MOM’s is
taking action to increase transparency and sustainability in the pet
food industry. Working in partnership with the Pet Industry
Sustainability Coalition, the first step is a survey asking existing and
potential vendors whether their food contains leftover animal products
from the human food system, if their seafood is certified sustainable by
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch or similar, and whether their
packaging is recyclable, recycled, compostable, and/or responsibly
In a press release, Lisa de Lima, vice president of
grocery for the Rockville, MD-based chain, says the pet food industry
purchases over 16.5 billion pounds of meat, poultry, seafood and grains
to produce food products just for cats and dogs.
“As the demand
for high-quality pet food grows, so does the confusion about the
environmental significance of the industry,” she says.
dog food used to be considered inherently sustainable because it used
leftovers from the human food supply chain. But then consumers began
questioning the quality of the ingredients in their animal companions’
food, and “byproducts” became the third rail of the pet food industry.
Today, the fastest growth in the industry is in the specialty channel
where retailers offer mostly “natural” food that contains no byproducts.
But Palmer, who disagrees that a medium-sized dog’s environmental
impact is larger than an SUV’s, suggests that maybe cats and dogs don’t
need, or even appreciate, food made from prime cuts of beef or white
meat chicken breast. After all, meat is meat, and cats who hunt aren’t
all that picky about the parts of their prey that they eat. And some of
the leftovers from human meat processing are rich in protein and fat,
the most necessary components of a cat’s diet.
Most raw cat
food manufacturers already include some of those leftovers in their food
in the form of ground bones and organ meat.
A spokesperson for MOM’s said the survey is only the beginning of the grocery store chain’s research.
“We’re trying to get the facts and the science straight when it comes
to sustainable pet food ingredients,” she said. “We value not only the
sustainability quotient of the ingredients, but the health of the animal
“This entire project is to get the conversation
started, to get a baseline for the ‘hot spots’ within the pet food
industry and see where we can make impactful change to better our
environment and improve the health our beloved pets.”
results come in, MOM’s and PISC plan to develop a working group of
retailers, consumers and pet food suppliers to fine-tune the
questionnaire for use across the industry.
“Our goal is to
source brands and products that hold an optimum balance between
nutrition and sustainability,” de Lima says in the press release. “We
want to give our customers peace of mind, knowing they’ve made the best
choice for their pets and the environment.”
So what do your
cats eat? Do they demand chicken breast, or would they be just as happy
with meat from a leg or thigh? We’d love to read about their favorite
foods in the comments below.