While many of you who read this blog have already committed to buying ethically raised meat and animal products for you and your family, the same may not be the case when feeding your precious dog or cat. Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with over two thirds of households owning a pet. As caring consumers, we feel that not only is it important that we consider the ethical implications of our own food choices, but also those associated with feeding our beloved pets.
There are several issues to consider when evaluating how ethical a brand of pet food is. The first is the treatment of the animals that the pet food is made from. Another issue is the use of animals by pet food manufacturers to test the safety, palatability and nutritional adequacy of their products.
What’s in your pet’s food?
According to the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA), whose members make over 98% of the prepared pet foods sold in Australia, the meat used in commercial pet food comes from animals reared for human consumption and their by-products. So this may be the less popular cuts of meats as well as organs and body parts that people won’t eat. Members of the PFIAA may only use only fresh or frozen meats and do not use meat from horses, whales or dolphins. Fresh pet meat, which is not regulated by PFIAA, may however contain meat from animals, such as horses, kangaroos and rabbit, so it’s important to check the label or ask questions if you’re buying unpackaged fresh meat.
While the absence of horse and other dubious sources of meat in commercial pet food is reassuring, the fact remains that unless it states otherwise, the meat in pet food has almost certainly come from conventionally-raised i.e. factory-farmed animals and their by-products. If we don’t eat this ourselves is it really OK to be feeding it to our pets?
Another ethical dilemma associated with pet food is the testing of products on captive animals in laboratories. Many pet food manufacturers are owned by larger multinational parent companies that include a range of industries, such as pharmaceuticals, processed foods and household products. Such companies would be involved in a range of animal-based research and testing, both for their pet food and other products.
While we were unable to investigate each and every dog food manufacturer and whether or not they test their products on animals for the purpose of this blog, if you have a look at the Shop Ethical website (http://www.ethical.org.au/) and search for Pet Food you’ll be able to find out the parent company for brands sold in Australia and how they rate on number of criteria, including animal testing.
Ethical pet food?
So as caring consumers, what are the most ethical alternatives to conventional pet foods?
One alternative to conventional pet food would be to buy one of the brands of organic pet food now on the market. There are several of these available in Australia and at least this would ensure that the meat comes from animals that were reared according to high animal welfare standards.
From a food waste perspective, another more ethical alternative would be to use a combination of a commercial pet food supplemented with household food scraps (e.g. vegetable peelings, leftover pasta and rice, eggshells) and off-cuts from the butcher. This would be a great way of reducing household waste as well as being very economical.*
Yet another alternative would be to forget about commercial pet foods altogether and make your own. There are plenty of recipes for home made pet food on the internet.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s important that what you feed your pet is nutritionally adequate and appropriate for their species. It’s a good idea to have a chat with your vet just to make sure. We believe, and hopefully you agree, that all animals, not just our own beloved pets, deserve our compassion and a good life. Feeding your pet ethically produced pet food is another way you can help to improve the lives of animals.
* There are certain foods that dogs can’t eat, such as chocolate and onions, so please do your research and avoid feeding your pets anything that may be hazardous to their health.