I grew up in a hippy commune in Northern California, where living in sustainability and harmony with nature was a way of life. But, back then, I could have cared less about being self-sufficient because all I wanted was a blow dryer and a curling iron, two things I couldn’t have because we didn’t have electricity. And, yes, I lived in a dome.
Fast forward forty-three years, and it’s like I’ve never left the commune! The hippie philosophy must have rubbed off on me because now I agonize over every purchase, asking myself, is it sustainable? Is it USDA-Certified Organic? Were the animals in the pet food humanely raised and certified? Does it meet the definition of humane-grade pet food? Does the company address climate change and sustainability initiatives? Are their ingredients ethically sourced and traceable?
When I see someone in the pet food aisle, I have to fight the urge to grab them by the shoulders and say, “Do you have any idea what are you buying? Because it’s lies. All lies!“
There’s a term used to describe consumers like me: Conscious consumers. It’s basically an elitist term for people like me who can afford to make choices based on their beliefs. For those who can, it means choosing products that try to balance consumerism’s negative impacts on the earth and, generally, avert an ecological catastrophe.
WHAT IS A SUSTAINABILITY ANYWAY?
Aside from moving back to the land, raising goats, and growing your food, the basic principle of sustainability is to “create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.“
LIVING CLOSE TO NATURE
It’s not just hippies who want to live a life close to nature anymore. Consumers wish to buy products that align with their ethics and are aware of the impact of man’s destruction of the earth’s resources and how it has led us to the catastrophic climate crisis we face today. And they want to make a difference by making better choices.
CATNIP FOR CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS
Buzzwords like “sustainable,” “eco-friendly,” and “organic” are catnip to conscious consumers, and while they may be valid, sometimes companies use them in deceptive environmental marketing claims. Claims that suggest the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. Still, without validation or substantiation to support the claims, they’re not only meaningless but a violation of the law.
VERIFIABLE STANDARDS PROGRAMS – SOME GREAT, SOME NOT SO GREAT
I’ve developed a list of recommended auditing programs to help consumers learn which ecolabels and standards most effectively address the environmental impacts of products. While I would like to say with absolute assurance that these programs are unassailable and that you can put your complete faith in them, I can’—caveat emptor.
Human-Grade Standard for Pet Food All ingredients in human-grade pet food must be human-edible for a pet food product to be deemed edible for humans. Therefore, the AAFCO-defined feed term “human-grade” is only acceptable for the product as a whole. In addition, the feed term specifies that every ingredient and the resulting product must be stored, handled, processed, and transported in a manner that is consistent and compliant with the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Part 117 and those applicable federal human food laws as required by ingredient, process, and facility type.
USDA Certified Organic Pet Food Currently, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has no regulations for organic pet food. In the absence of regulations for pet food, the USDA is using the livestock feed rule instead. For organic pet food certification, certified operations and organic certifying agents follow the current organic regulations for organic livestock production and handling/processing. This means that agricultural ingredients included in the ingredients list for livestock feed products must be organically produced. In addition, all forages, feed, feed supplements, and feed additives must be listed in the organic system plan.
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW (AWA) is an independent, nonprofit farm certification program. It is the only USDA-approved third-party animal-welfare food certification label that supports and promotes farmers who raise their animals with the highest welfare standards outdoors, on pasture, or in the range.
Certified Grassfed and Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW is an optional add-on to the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW program. Requires products from animals whose diet is 100% grass and forage. In addition, animals must be raised outdoors on pasture or range, managed under high animal welfare, and meet the environmental standards of the program.
The Certified Humane Farm Animal Care animal welfare certification program is not a very good one: For example, access to the outdoors is not required for meat birds, egg-laying hens, or pigs; cattle may be taken off pasture for feeding in a yard or lot. However, the program offers a “pasture-raised” option for eggs that meet Animal Welfare Institute standards.
Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Animal Welfare Certified is a rating program where producers are rated on a six-tier scale, from Step 1 to Step 5+. Only Steps 4, 5, and 5+ require pasture access for animals. Standards for Steps 1 through 3 are not sufficiently strong to be considered high welfare for farm animals. GAP provides a guide to its tiered labeling program.
Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Farmed Atlantic Salmon Welfare Standards is focused on fish welfare from hatch to harvest and spans the entire supply chain. GAP will seek to develop standards for 4-6 farmed fish species (beginning with salmon) and develop a multi-step framework for farmed fish based on land animal models.
Regenerative Organic Certified food, fiber, and personal care ingredients represent “the world’s highest standard for organic agriculture,” with stringent requirements for soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. ROC uses the USDA Certified Organic standard as a baseline. From there, it adds essential criteria and benchmarks incorporating the three central pillars of regenerative organic agriculture into one certification.
The Non-GMO Project Standard is a third-party non-GMO verification program. The project verifies animal food, including pet food, is free from genetically modified organisms.
Marine Stewardship Council Certified Sustainable Seafood Although the program has many critics, it still has some value: The blue MSC label can be traced back to a sustainable source, and independent surveillance audits and DNA testing prove this. Find out where to buy MSC-certified seafood-based pet food.
Seafood Ocean Wise Seafood is an ocean conservation program that empowers consumers and businesses to choose sustainable seafood options that support healthy oceans. Ocean Wise is a recommendation program rather than a seafood certification; third-party audits are not conducted.
DO THE TOP PET FOOD COMPANIES CARE ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY?
Mar’s Petcare Inc., the largest pet food company in the World, with over 50+ pet food brands, talks a good game, sustainability-wi. However, they still don’t have a verified sustainable pet food – even after over a decade of promises.
Nestle Purina PetCare, the 2nd largest pet food company in the US and the maker of 30 pet food brands, has a pet brand called Beyond, which is USDA Certified Organic, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Certified, and Verified Non-GMO.
JM Smuckers Pet Foods, the 3rd largest pet food company in the US with 11 different pet food brands, says they are committed to contributing to creating a healthier planet for future generations. Still, they don’t have verified sustainable pet food.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition, the 4th largest pet food manufacturer in the US and the maker of 4 brands: Science Diet, Prescription Diet, Ideal Balance, and Healthy Advantage, does not have verified sustainable pet food. They say they are committed to sustainable sourcing by integrating social, environmental, and ethical practices. In addition, they strive to improve efficiency with their suppliers to their manufacturing sites, but their claims are non-specific and unverifiable.
General Mills is the 5th largest in the pet food and treats category in the US, and although their slogan is ‘Treat the World with Care,’ they don’t have verified sustainable pet food or treats.
SHOP WITH YOUR HEART
ASPCA’s Shop With Your Heart program allows you to search for pet food brands that have earned one or more recommended animal welfare certifications. In addition, their search engine will enable you to further refine welfare-certified products by how animals were raised: on pasture, with outdoor access, or indoors in an enriched environment. Also, check out the Pet Food Grocery List.
CERTIFIED B CORPORATIONS
Look for B Corp Certification Certified B Corporations are legally required to “consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.” B Corporations are companies that deliver on both social and environmental high standards. They are also certified in their accountability and transparency.
DID YOU KNOW THERE’S A LAW AGAINST GREENWASHING?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued the Guidelines for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (referred to as the Green Guides) to help marketers avoid deceptive environmental marketing claims in advertisements, product packaging, and sustainability claims. The law prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce” and serves as the principal federal law promoting truth in advertising and other marketing materials.
The FTC says that statements that a product is “sustainable” or “environmentally friendly” without further information are likely to be deceptive because it is “doubtful that marketers can substantiate all reasonable consumer interpretations of these claims.” And companies who make environmental claims will need “competent and reliable scientific evidence” to adequately substantiate ecological marketing claims.
So, if you see a claim that does not meet the FTC Green Guides, report it!
CARBON NEUTRALITY? WHAT’S THAT?
Why not find out what your carbon footprint is? A carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gas, specifically carbon dioxide, emitted from an activity. We can dive deep into finding out what it is by checking out the Environmental Protection Agency’s Carbon Footprint Calculator. In addition, the Nature Conservancy Carbon Calculator tells us how our activities and daily habits affect the environment. And we can find simple ways to adjust our lifestyle and minimize our footprint.
OUR CHOICES MATTER – REALLY, THEY DO!
We, as consumers, have considerable power, both individually and collectively. Through our choices, we can drive the pet food industry to adopt more sustainable practices. With those changes, they can participate in sustainability and animal welfare programs and – hopefully, help the World avoid ecological ruin.
SUPER USEFUL AND HELPFUL SHOPPING GUIDES
False + Misleading Claims Rampant in Pet Food Industry; Phony Human-Grade Claims Glut the Market (Poisoned Pets)
Making Better Food Choices (Animal Welfare Institute (AWI))
A Consumer’s Guide to Food Animal Welfare – Download (AWI)
Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Label Guide (American Society for the Protection of Animals)
Where to buy MSC-certified seafood in the US – Choose Products for Pets (Marine Stewardship Council)
The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World (United Nations)
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION REGULATIONS
Eco-Friendly and Green Marketing Claims (FTC)
Environmental Claims: Summary of the Green Guides (FTC)
If you see a claim that does not meet the FTC Green Guides, let the FTC know (FTC)
The USDA Organic Label for Pet Food and Livestock Feed (USDA)
Definitions: Sustainability and Food Systems (USDA)
Coalition on Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation (USDA)
About the Organic Standards (USDA)
Labeling Organic Products (USDA)
Guidelines for “Human Grade” Pet and Specialty Pet Food Claims (AAFCO)
HELP FROM THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
Introduction to Ecolabels and Standards for Greener Products (EPA)
Safer Choice Chemical Ingredients List (EPA)
Federal Sustainability Plan (Office of the Federal Chief Sustainability Officer, Council on Environmental Quality)
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE EU? (HINT: IT ISN’T GOOD)
Screening of websites for ‘greenwashing’: half of the green claims lack evidence (European Commission)
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