Pet food has a carbon pawprint. Could I convince my cat Oscar to taste-test some planet-friendlier alternatives?
Over the years I have become increasingly conscious of the impact my diet has on the environment. As I lessened the amount of meat in my diet, I began to wonder about the carbon pawprint of my cat, whose diet is primarily meat-based. Further investigation confirmed my suspicions — pet diets are a serious climate problem. A 2020 study by the University of Edinburgh assessed the global pawprint of pet food for dry food diets in the U.S. and estimated that pet food could be responsible for up to 2.9% of CO2 equivalent emissions and up to 1.2% of agricultural land use. (This is for dry food diets, which, in a recent study conducted by São Paulo University, indicated a lower environmental impact than wet food, due to their lower animal protein content.)
Scary, right? Though I am not going to shame anyone for having a furry friend, otherwise, I would be a major hypocrite. But reducing our pet's negative impact on the planet is a good thing. Cats are carnivores by nature, and I wasn’t about to try and turn my cat Oscar into a vegan. But, I did want to test out some better Earth-friendlier, Oscar-friendlier options.
Of course, it doesn’t matter how planet-positive the food is if it tastes disgusting. So I selected three of the leading sustainable cat food brands (available in the USA and Canada) to test on the pickiest of eaters — my very own Oscar Carney.
Oscar is a 13.2-pound, 15-year-old, well-traveled cat, who has moved continents twice — from Ottawa, Canada to London, England, and back. His breed is unknown, as his mother was rescued from the streets of Ottawa. Despite his age and his well-earned laziness, he is in perfect health and constantly hungry. He normally eats at least one medium can of wet food and half a cup of dry food over the course of the day (complemented by many treats).
But it was time to introduce Oscar to more planet-friendly fare:
(In the interest of scientific validity, each food was sampled on different days with the same fasting period prior to control for Oscar’s hunger level.)
Catit Nuna, one of the leading insect protein-based cat food brands, derives its protein from the larvae of the black soldier fly. The nutritious larvae boast a high protein content, as well as omega-6, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. The larvae are ground into flour before being incorporated. Using primarily larvae instead of meat conserves water, saves land (through the use of vertical insect farming), reduces CO2 emissions, and reduces animal waste (soldier flies are completely edible, unlike beef or chicken, which are 60% and 45% inedible, respectively). Moreover, the larvae are fed unused food resources (fruits, vegetables, and cereals) and Catit Nuna bags are 100% recyclable.
But does it hold up to picky Oscar’s taste test? We tested the insect and herring dry food ($34.99), comprised of 92% sustainable protein (compared to 88% for the chicken and insect). It also includes a small amount of MSC-certified, sustainably sourced herring.
Oscar approved! He loved this dried food (listen closely to his purring in the video!) and happily chowed down. In the past Oscar has been fed the chicken Catit Nuna variety and disliked it, so he recommends the herring.
With a wider variety of options (catering to both cats and dogs), Openfarm is a meat- and vegetable-based pet food company. They partner with Oceanwise, Certified Humane, and Global Animal Partnership, to ensure their products are sustainably and humanely sourced. A three-step plan further minimizes their environmental impact, which includes measuring their greenhouse gas footprint, reducing it by 42% by 2030, and offsetting their emissions. Openfarm purchases Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that cover 100% of their electricity use. Learn more about their climate plan here.
Aside from their climate pledges, the food itself includes nutritious ingredients — Pacific cod, herring, garbanzo beans, lentils, and apples. Every ingredient is traceable and sustainably sourced. They also partner with Terracycle to enable customers to recycle their bags for free. Try out free samples at your local Openfarm reseller (contact su*****@op*********.com to locate them). But what does Oscar think? We offered him Catch-of-the-Season Whitefish ($29.99):
A great success! However, when put half-half in the same bowl with the Catit Nuna, he opted for the Catit Nuna.
Because Openfarm also has wet food, we offered Oscar two flavors:
- Homestead Turkey Rustic Blend ($2.99)
- Herring and Mackerel Rustic Blend ($2.99)
The wet food varieties cost $35.88 for a case of 12.
Our most budget-friendly option was Purina Beyond Simply Salmon and Brown Rice ($8.99), a dry food that contains probiotics, salmon, rice protein, and barley. While this product has ways to go in regard to sustainability (for instance, their salmon is not MSC-certified), it is better than most options and more affordable. All ingredients can be traced, and Purina is working to improve water-use efficiency, increase energy use from renewable sources, and achieve zero waste disposal. But will snobby Oscar approve? Let’s see…
He did, sort of. Given the option, he preferred Catit Nuna and Openfarm, but he didn’t walk away from Beyond Simply. You can see him hesitating in the video. Nutritionally, his favorites are superior, too.
And the Winner Is…
The Winner Taste-wise:
The Winner Climate-wise:
It is a close tie between Catit Nuna and Openfarm. Catit Nuna is comprised primarily of insects, which have a far lower environmental impact than any meat or fish product, no matter how sustainably sourced. It is hard to choose a winner, as both Catit Nuna and Openfarm keep sustainability as a core focus of their company. This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch — and it will be interesting to see how the pet food market evolves — but these brands are great options to expand his refined palate while ensuring he continues to have positive impact on his family and the environment.