As some of you know, I live in the centre of Brussels, where green space is scarcer than the hair on my old math professor’s head in the second year of university. I, therefore, was a bit shocked that a couple of weeks ago, a fence blocked off part of the already limited patch of greenery around the corner. ‘Dog zone’, the plaque on the newly installed enclosure read.
I truly was a tad annoyed at first. But when I saw two four-footers testing out their new playground, I just could not hold back a smile at the sight of their playful fight. Grumpiness gone. Nonetheless, the whole situation had sparked a question. While it is easily measurable how much green space we give away to pets in our cities, it is less obvious how much of humankind’s carbon budget is eaten away by them –literally.
In all these years, I have written about the carbon and water impact of one’s meat consumption, air travel, public transport, energy use, consumerism, you name it. But never did I ponder over the environmental impact of our furry friends.
Although I do recall a moment a couple of years back where I met a die-hard vegan with a lovely dog. He was willing to die for animal rights and obviously adored his own pet to the moon. The dedicated guy only served his labrador the best of the best. Which happened to be meat. A vegan feeding his dog meat, yes. I remember struggling to wrap my head around that paradoxical situation, but yeah, I guess it is my engineering brain.
Let’s get back to the core of the question: what is the
footprint pawprint of typical pet’s food? An interesting study about the situation in the US, where there are as many cats and dogs as there are men or women (about 160 million), found that cats and dogs are good for 25 to 30 per cent of the environmental footprint related to animal production. The study took into account land use, water, fossil fuel, phosphate, and biocides to determine the final impact on the environment.
Although the States are a bit an extreme case when it comes to pet ownership, the numbers are startling. In a time where environmentalists do not shy away from the controversial discussion about limiting birth rates to curb emissions, I think it is only fair to also talk about limiting pet rates as well.
Unless, of course, we can put our furry companions on a diet that is both good for them and the planet (this would also spare me from a bloat of angry emails from pet lovers). Turns out there are a couple of pet food brands offering protein-rich alternatives based on insects.
And when one thinks a minute about it, it makes so much sense. Insects like grasshoppers, mealworms, and soldier flies have a far lower footprint per kilogram protein than beef. Simply because insects require much less food, water, and space than a cow. Insects also do not lose so much energy in keeping their own body warm, nor do they fart out huge amounts of methane. That really makes a difference.
And while the idea of insect food revolutionising the modern food supply is already going around for a couple of years, pursuing the pet food market seems to be a far more logical first step to introduce insects in the western food chain. Altough we can’t ask our dog or cat if they like the fact that there are insects in their diet, they are for sure less emotional about making the switch.
Startups like Eat Small from Germany and Bugs for Pets from the Netherlands offer now healthy and environmentally friendly pet food. If I look at what they have in store, I am tempted to buy it as film snacks for myself: from Energy snacks (soldier fly enriched with goji berries), over Mindfulness snacks (with chia and banana, yummy), to the Crispy Chunks (full of vitamins, and gluten-free!).
So. No more excuses for pet lovers: go out and research an environmentally friendly pet food alternative! Their diet has a big and often overlooked environmental footprint and we have to be honest with ourselves about it. Oh and I love that people are finally picking up their dog’s poo from the pavement, but could we please use a biodegradable bag for that? Thanks!