The United States alone is home to over 85 million dogs and nearly 78 million cats. All those animals have to eat, and that’s going to become a problem eventually. The environmental impact that the pet food industry has is huge. Just like humans, dogs and cats consume fish, meat, wheat, corn, and many other common ingredients. This puts pressure on the global food market.
Until now nothing much has been done to make the pet food market more “green,” but the industry is starting to wrestle with sustainability issues. When compared to their heavyweight manufacturing rivals, Mars Petcare is leading the way in making the industry more environmentally friendly.
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Better known for M&Ms and candy bars, Mars is actually the world’s largest pet food company. Mars operates about 70 factories and owns brands including Pedigree, Nutro, Whiskas, Cesar, Sheba, Iams, and Canin. The company’s annual revenue was estimated at about $17 billion last year.
Back in 2010, Mars promised to buy their fish only from fish farms and fisheries that are certified as sustainable from a trusted third party. This was an industry first. The company also said it would replace all fish fillet and wild catch whole fish with either farmed fish or by-products so that the demand for pet food doesn’t directly compete with the human food industry.
Last month, Isabelle Alvoet, global sustainability director for Mars Petcare, spoke at a food-and-sustainability event. She told reporters that Mars is doing its part to use seafood sustainably. She said that it is a challenge for the company because the company’s efforts are the opposite of what consumers want right now.
Now, more than ever, pet owners want to purchase food for their pets that closely resembles what they eat themselves. Alvoet says that it isn’t easy, but the company is striving to educate consumers about sustainability issues.
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Mars is making progress toward their goals. In the United States they have replaced 100 percent of their wild caught fish with sources that have been approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. Also, by the end of 2014, globally, the company had sourced 30 percent of their wild caught fish-based ingredients from suppliers that are certified as sustainable by third parties or recommended by Seafood Watch.
Mars has stated that it has a team specifically dedicated to finding alternative sources of protein across their entire portfolio. Other pet food giants are beginning to follow suit, and with changes in the FDA’s pet food standards coming soon, if they do the job properly, efforts to limit the environmental impact of pet food will not raise any safety issues.