Pet food manufacturer to start using sustainably sourced fish

Pet food makers will cut their carbon emissions by 10% by 2020, while Mars Petcare is to use sustainably sourced fish. But progress across the sector is patchy.

The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) has promised its members will cut their CO2 emissions by 10% and water use by 20% by 2020. Meanwhile, Mars Petcare will begin using sustainably sourced fish in its products. Information on other suppliers’ sourcing policies and on the carbon footprints of their products is hard to find.

Mars will start using fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in its Whiskas and Sheba brands in Europe this year. It wants all the fish it uses globally to come from sustainable wild stocks or aquaculture by 2020.

The firm says most of its fish is by-product from human food production. By 2020, it will have removed whole wild-caught fish and fish fillets from its supply chain entirely, replacing them with by-products and farmed fish.

New targets

Mars is the world’s biggest pet food makers and WWF, which helped draw up the targets, hopes it will set a precedent. The firm called the initiative an "industry first", although some smaller firms such as Burns Pet Nutrition already claim to use sustainably sourced fish.

ENDS contacted eight more manufacturers and retailers to ask about their sourcing policies, but most failed to respond. Waitrose said it is discussing the issue with suppliers, while Procter & Gamble (P&G), maker of Iams and Eukanuba, said its fish comes from legally caught EU stocks. Nestlé Purina, which makes several pet foods, has stopped using the most endangered species and says 99% of fish used in Europe was caught for humans. It may consider using certified fish in the future.

Pets’ environmental impacts were highlighted by a rash of news stories late last year. The headline figures - from the US authors of a book called Time to Eat the Dog? - suggest medium-sized dogs have greater "eco-footprints" than SUVs. The claim is based on the area of land needed to feed a dog a meat diet compared with that needed to provide an SUV with energy. But the calculations ignore complexities such as the use of by-products.

About 630,000 tonnes of animal by-products are used in the 1.2 million tonnes of pet food made in the UK annually, according to the PFMA. By comparison, the UK makes about 37Mt/yr of food for humans.

Still, feeding the UK’s 16 million cats and dogs is problematic because of carnivorous diets’ higher carbon footprints. Vegetarian pet foods are available but there is debate over their health effects. All cats, and some dogs, need taurine, an amino acid not produced by plants that has to be added to vegetarian foods.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the trade association for human food makers, has had environmental targets for many years (ENDS Report 394, pp 8-9). Its members are aiming for a 20% reduction in their total CO2 emissions below 1990 levels by 2010 and 30% by 2020. The PFMA’s ambition looks rather slight by comparison and is a relative target, meaning the reduction will be per tonne of food made. Total emissions from the sector could still rise. The PFMA is unsure what its members’ current emissions are and, without historical data, it is hard to assess how challenging the target is.

Emission reductions

However, PFMA chief executive Michael Bellingham said three of its members are also part of the FDF. Many more are covered by a Climate Change Agreement requiring sizeable emission reductions from food and drink manufacturers.

The PFMA has also pledged to increase the percentage of recyclable packaging its members use, from 60% to 80% over the next ten years. But the sector lags the food and drink industry when it comes to carbon footprinting. The PFMA has not done any work in this area and Mr Bellingham was unaware of any firms having done so.

P&G told ENDS its foods have a small footprint as they are dry. A two-week supply of Iams for a 20 kilogramme dog requires 97% less packaging than an equivalent supply of wet food. The food itself is 80% lighter, which cuts transport emissions. P&G is taking a number of other steps to reduce the carbon embedded in its products but has no plans to give consumers absolute figures because they are variable and might be misleading.

Purina is using "ongoing life-cycle analysis" to help reduce transport emissions.