Pet di­ets tak­ing own toll on cli­mate

Our cats and dogs eat enough meat to cre­ate tons of green­house gases ev­ery year.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - AMINA KHAN amina.khan@la­times.com Twit­ter: @am­i­nawrite

You’ve heard about the car­bon foot­print, but what about the car­bon paw­print? Ac­cord­ing to a new study, U.S. cats’ and dogs’ eat­ing pat­terns have as big an ef­fect as driv­ing 13.6 mil­lion cars for a year.

The find­ings, pub­lished in the jour­nal PLOS One, re­veals how our furry, four­legged com­pan­ions’ con­sump­tion of meat and other an­i­mal prod­ucts adds a siz­able, and largely over­looked, cli­mate cost.

When it comes to en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects, meat eat­ing takes the cake. A 2014 study in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Acad­emy of Sciences found that pro­duc­ing a kilo­gram of chicken re­sults in about 3.7 kilo­grams of car­bon diox­ide, and that a kilo­gram of pork comes with 24 kilo­grams of car­bon diox­ide.

The same amount of beef, how­ever, can be re­spon­si­ble for up to 1,000 kilo­grams of CO2 — a wor­ri­some fig­ure given that this green­house gas is largely re­spon­si­ble for the sig­nif­i­cant warm­ing of the Earth’s cli­mate. That’s not even count­ing the live­stock’s wa­ter us­age foot­print, which dwarfs that of agri­cul­tural crops.

It’s a grow­ing con­cern given that de­vel­oped coun­tries such as the U.S. con­sume lots of an­i­mal pro­tein, and that de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that are eco­nom­i­cally on the rise seem to be in­creas­ing their share of meat con­sump­tion too.

But one sleep­less night about five years ago, UCLA ge­og­ra­pher Gre­gory Okin re­al­ized some­thing: Those en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ments rarely if ever took into ac­count the con­sump­tion by dogs and cats. The thought gave him pause — per­haps even paws.

“Be­cause I couldn’t sleep, I got up and just kind of started throw­ing some num­bers to­gether,” he said. “It’s evolved a lot since then.”

He cal­cu­lated the likely num­ber of calo­ries needed by the United States’ pet dogs and cats, who num­ber around 163 mil­lion, and ex­am­ined the in­gre­di­ents in pet food and tal­lied up which ones were de­rived from an­i­mals.

The re­sults? Cats’ and dogs’ over­all caloric con­sump­tion was about 19% that of hu­mans in the U.S.

“Just to put that in con­text, that’s about the same amount of calo­ries that the coun­try of France con­sumes and so that whet my ap­petite a lit­tle bit,” Okin said.

No­tably, dogs and cats ac­tu­ally con­sumed about 33% of the an­i­mal-de­rived calo­ries that hu­mans did, per­haps be­cause their di­ets are gen­er­ally more meatheavy than ours, Okin said.

On the other end, they also pro­duce about 30% of the fe­ces that hu­mans do (and much of that gets thrown in the trash in plas­tic bags, in­stead of treated the way that hu­man waste is).

In short, Okin con­cluded, Amer­i­can dogs and cats eat enough an­i­mal prod­uct to ac­count for about 64 mil­lion tons of meth­ane and ni­trous ox­ide, two other pow­er­ful green­house gases. That’s about the same im­pact on our warm­ing cli­mate as driv­ing 13.6 mil­lion cars for a year.

“Amer­i­cans are the largest pet own­ers in the world, but the tra­di­tion of pet own­er­ship in the U.S. has con­sid­er­able costs,” Okin wrote in the pa­per. “As pet own­er­ship in­creases in some de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, es­pe­cially China, and trends con­tinue in pet food to­ward higher con­tent and qual­ity of meat, glob­ally, pet own­er­ship will com­pound the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of hu­man di­etary choices.”

Okin em­pha­sized that he wasn’t ad­vo­cat­ing giv­ing up beloved furry friends — far from it. But for peo­ple who want to be aware of their en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact so that they can try to re­duce it, it’s prob­a­bly worth know­ing the full ef­fect of their house­hold, ca­nines and fe­lines in­cluded.

There’s also a move­ment to­ward putting more meat in pet foods, per­haps driven by what Okin called the “hu­man­iza­tion” of pet prod­ucts. But dogs aren’t pure car­ni­vores. They’re om­niv­o­rous, hav­ing de­vel­oped the abil­ity to read­ily di­gest starches — pos­si­bly from the trash heaps that ac­cu­mu­lated around an­cient hu­man en­camp­ments.

So dogs, at least, could po­ten­tially get even more of their re­quired pro­tein from non-an­i­mal sources than pet own­ers may think.

“I cer­tainly hope these kinds of num­bers will en­cour­age the mar­ket to con­sider ad­ding those as mar­ket choices, and I also think that in­di­vid­u­als can make choices,” Okin said.

Pa­tri­cia Mar­ro­quin UCLA

AMER­I­CAN DOGS and cats eat enough an­i­mal prod­uct to cre­ate the same ef­fect as driv­ing 13.6 mil­lion cars for a year, re­searchers found. Above, Bella eats kib­ble.

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