Researcher finds that feeding pets creates the equivalent of 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

US cats and dogs cause 25-30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in this country. The nation's 163 million cats and dogs eat as much food as all the people in France. People should keep their pets -- and keep feeding them meat -- but there may be steps pet owners can take to reduce their environmental impact, says a researcher.

With many Americans choosing to eat less meat in recent years, often to help reduce the environmental effect of meat production, UCLA geography professor Gregory Okin began to wonder how much feeding pets contributes to issues like climate change.

All that meat has important consequences. Okin calculated that meat-eating by dogs and cats creates the equivalent of about 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, which has about the same climate impact as a year's worth of driving from 13.6 million cars.

"I like dogs and cats, and I'm definitely not recommending that people get rid of their pets or put them on a vegetarian diet, which would be unhealthy," Okin said. "But I do think we should consider all the impacts that pets have so we can have an honest conversation about them. Pets have many benefits, but also a huge environmental impact."

In a paper publishing Aug. 2 in the journal PLOS One, Okin says he found that cats and dogs are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. If Americans' 163 million Fidos and Felixes comprised a separate country, their fluffy nation would rank fifth in global meat consumption, Okin calculated, behind only Russia, Brazil, the United States and China. And it all has to go somewhere -- America's pets produce about 5.1 million tons of feces in a year, as much as 90 million Americans. If all that were thrown in the trash, it would rival the total trash production of Massachusetts -- from the humans, at least.

Compared to a plant-based diet, meat requires more energy, land and water to produce, and has greater environmental consequences in terms of erosion, pesticides and waste, Okin noted. Previous studies have found that the American diet produces the equivalent of 260 million tons of carbon dioxide from livestock production. By calculating and comparing how much meat 163 million cats and dogs eat compared to 321 million Americans, Okin determined how many tons of greenhouse gases are tied to pet food.

His calculations start with publicly available information, like the number of dogs and cats in the country and the ingredients in market-leading pet foods, producing estimates that create a starting point for conversation.

He found that the nation's dogs and cats eat about 19 percent as many calories as the nation's people, on par with all the calories consumed by the population of France in a year. Because dog and cat food tends to have more meat than the average human diet, this means that dogs and cats consume about 25 percent of the total calories derived from animals in the United States.

Okin, a member of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, usually researches dust bowls, desert landscape dynamics and wind erosion, and how those things can impact individual ecosystems and the global climate. Pinning down the environmental impact of canine companions and feline friends was more of an -- ahem -- pet project that occurred to him while he was thinking about the growing trend of raising backyard chickens.

"I was thinking about how cool it is that chickens are vegetarian and make protein for us to eat, whereas many other pets eat a lot of protein from meat," he said. "And that got me thinking -- how much meat do our pets eat?"

Okin recognizes that some of the products in pet food aren't something people should or would eat. But some of it is. In his research, he confirmed his hunch that premium pet foods usually contain more animal products than other brands, and that premium pet food purchases are increasing. As growing numbers of people consider pets less as animals and more as family members, Okin said, pampering has increased and the options for pet food with high-quality meat has kept pace. This means pets are increasingly eating cuts of meat suitable for humans.

"A dog doesn't need to eat steak," Okin said. "A dog can eat things a human sincerely can't. So what if we could turn some of that pet food into people chow?"

A commitment to snout-to-tail consumption, where as much rendered product as possible is produced for human use, could significantly reduce national meat consumption. Okin estimates that if even a quarter of the meat in pet food could be consumed by humans, it would equal the amount of meat consumed by 26 million Americans, nearly the population of Texas. Okin noted that ideas about what is edible vary dramatically by culture. He also pointed to a controversy in 2012 about "pink slime," also called lean finely textured beef.

"It's perfectly edible and completely safe, but it's unappetizing, so people don't want it in their food," Okin said. "But frankly, it's a good, inexpensive protein source."

As eating less meat expands from vegetarian to environmental circles as a way to reduce one's carbon footprint, considering what to feed pets is a natural next step, Okin said. It's not just an issue in the United States, he noted. In places like China, Brazil and other emerging countries, as the population becomes more affluent, they're eating more meat and they're getting more pets.

"I'm not a vegetarian, but eating meat does come at a cost," he continued. "Those of us in favor of eating or serving meat need to be able to have an informed conversation about our choices, and that includes the choices we make for our pets."

He doesn't see a simple solution. Pets provide friendship and other social, health and emotional benefits that can't be discounted, Okin said. People concerned about meat intake could consider vegetarian pets, like birds or hamsters, he suggested. The pet food industry, he noted, is also beginning to take steps toward sustainability, and could work to reduce overfeeding and consider alternative sources of protein. But it's a complicated issue, and where pets are concerned, Okin knows it's important to have a sense of humor about it.

"Maybe we could all have little ponies," he said, half-jokingly. "We'd all get more exercise taking them for walks, and they would also mow the lawn."

 

Featured Video

Latest Sports News
  • Arsene Wenger says his future is not the issue at Arsenal...
    Read more...
  • Alexis Ohanian surprises wife Serena Williams with four billboards of daughter...
    Read more...
  • Olympic French figure skater pulls off shocking costume change...
    Read more...
  • India vs South Africa 2018, 2nd T20I in Centurion Highlights - Klaasen & Duminy Bring Joy to Proteas...
    Read more...
  • This figure-skating move was too sexy for the Olympics...
    Read more...
  • Shaun White wins Winter Olympics halfpipe gold in Pyeongchang...
    Read more...
  • Newcastle 1-0 Man Utd: 'Jose Mourinho was wrong, the Magpies did not get lucky'...
    Read more...
  • Winter Olympics: German Laura Dahlmeier becomes first woman to win biathlon's sprint-pursuit double...
    Read more...
  • Alexis Sanchez: Man City end pursuit of Arsenal forward...
    Read more...
  • LEBRON JAMES Hospitalized Kid's Wish: 'CAN YOU DUNK ON LONZO FOR ME?'...
    Read more...
  • NFL'S FLETCHER COX SUED You Ruined My Marriage WHEN YOU BANGED MY WIFE!...
    Read more...
  • COLIN KAEPERNICK WILLING TO STAND FOR NAT'L ANTHEM? ... Uh, Not So Fast....
    Read more...
  • Kingsley Sarfo released from custody after rape arrest....
    Read more...
  • COPS: ALEX MORGAN WAS SUPER DRUNK 'I Know the SWAT Team!'...
    Read more...
  • Kwesi Appiah drops Ayew brother's from Ghana squad....
    Read more...
  • LANCE ARMSTRONG BLASTS USC You Crapped On Reggie Bush!!...
    Read more...
  • 'AGT'S' JON DORENBOS 'RESTING COMFORTABLY' After Heart Surgery....
    Read more...
  • UFC'S MARK HUNT 'IF I DIE FIGHTING, THAT'S FINE' ... Just Want Clean Sport....
    Read more...
  • WWE's Chris Jericho details 'creepy' run-in with Yoko Ono....
    Read more...
  • GABBY DOUGLAS I'm Stickin' to Spandex! WANNA BE MARVEL SUPERHERO....
    Read more...
  • LEBRON JAMES TURNS THE TABLES ON TRUMP ... With 'MAGA'-Like Hat....
    Read more...
  • EVELYN LOZADA To Carl Crawford: I'M KEEPING THE $1.4 MIL RING!...
    Read more...
  • KENNY SMITH BEYONCE OWNING ROCKETS WOULD CHANGE SPORTS....
    Read more...
  • BODYBUILDING CHAMP RICH PIANA MEDICALLY INDUCED COMA ... After Emergency....
    Read more...
  • Bow down to greatness...
    Read more...
  • Booing of Justin Gatlin 'disrespects' the sport, says world champion's father...
    Read more...
  • World Championships 2017: Usain Bolt beaten by Justin Gatlin in 100m final...
    Read more...
  • Messi named best player in La Liga history...
    Read more...
  • MIKE VICK KAEPERNICK SHOULD CUT AFRO ... If He Wants NFL Job....
    Read more...
  • David Beckham defends daughter's birthday party at Buckingham Palace...
    Read more...
  • Chelsea allows Diego Costa to stay away amid talks over Atletico Madrid return...
    Read more...
  • AMANDA NUNES I HAVE SINUSITIS That's Why I Withdrew from UFC 213....
    Read more...
  • MAYWEATHER VS. MCGREGOR IT'S OFFICIAL ... 12 Rounds, Boxing...
    Read more...
  • SERENA & VENUS' DAD FILES FOR DIVORCE ... She's Robbing Me Blind!...
    Read more...
  • NBA Finals Durant powers Warriors over Cavaliers for NBA title...
    Read more...
  • EX-NBA PLAYER SEBASTIAN TELFAIR Arrested in Brooklyn WITH LOADED GUNS, AMMO & DRUGS....
    Read more...
  • TIGER WOODS BUSTED FOR DUI Blames Rx Meds...
    Read more...
  • EX-WWE STAR CAMERON I DON'T DATE BLACK GUYS....
    Read more...
  • ROBERT GRIFFIN III I'M ENGAGED ... And My Fiancee's Preggo!...
    Read more...
  • CHARLES BARKLEY GIVES PROPS TO HIGH SCHOOL PROM DATE ... 'Merciful Woman'....
    Read more...
  • A-ROD SKIPS DEREK JETER NIGHT ... Does Dinner with J Lo....
    Read more...
  • John Cena: 'This is the greatest country in the world'....
    Read more...
  • FLOYD MAYWEATHER I'M THE BEST BOXER EVER ... Because Of My Dad.....
    Read more...
  • NBA'S RAYMOND FELTON EXPLAINS WHY ATHLETES PLAY After Loved Ones Die....
    Read more...
  • DE LA HOYA TO MAYWEATHER: FORGET MCGREGOR Fight Winner of Canelo vs Golovkin!....
    Read more...
  • CANELO ALVAREZ PLAYING BLACKJACK WITH LUIS MIGUEL ... After Beating Chavez Jr....
    Read more...
  • PACMAN JONES EXPLODES AFTER ROLLS-ROYCE CRASH 'Stupid Motherf**ker'....
    Read more...
  • MICHAEL OHER BOOKED FOR ALLEGED UBER ATTACK ... Mug Shot Taken....
    Read more...
  • PAUL PIERCE RAY ALLEN SHOULD'VE CALLED Before Bailing For Miami....
    Read more...
  • Cristiano Ronaldo's Girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez Busts Out Thong Bikini In Spain...
    Read more...
  • Female UFC fighters feared to be latest victims of nude photo leak....
    Read more...
  • CANELO ALVAREZ RAGES IN VEGAS After Destroying Julio Cesar Chavez Jr....
    Read more...
  • CHRIS BOSH SUED BY PORN MOGULS Over Alleged Moldy, Rat Poop Mansion....
    Read more...
  • Ghana's Kwesi Nyantakyi 'GFA' Boss named CAF 1st Vice President....
    Read more...
  • Pregnant Serena Williams glows in green at the Met Gala...
    Read more...
  • I enjoyed fighting Anthony Joshua - Klitschko....
    Read more...
  • Sulley Muntari reveals why he walked off over racist abuse in Italy...
    Read more...
  • COLIN KAEPERNICK PRAISED AS 'HERO' After Donating 50 Custom Suits To Ex-Cons....
    Read more...
  • Essien rated Chelsea's 2nd best Africa footballer of all times in the EPL by ESPN....
    Read more...
  • Abedi Pele hails 'wonderful' FA boss Kwesi Nyantakyi as he bows out in 2019....
    Read more...
  • DALE EARNHARDT JR. PUMPING BRAKES ON CAREER ... After 2017 Season....
    Read more...
  • NFL PROSPECT GAREON CONLEY ACCUSED OF RAPE ... Denies Allegations....
    Read more...
  • KIM KARDASHIAN GIANT ASS IS DAMAGING OUR YOUTH ... Boxer Says....
    Read more...
  • SHAQ BLAMES WWE They Messed Up Big Show Match....
    Read more...
  • CONOR MCGREGOR I'LL MAKE $100 MILLION IN MAYWEATHER FIGHT....
    Read more...
  • AARON HERNANDEZ PRISON CELL LETTERS NOT FOR GAY LOVER ... Attorney Insists....
    Read more...
  • Find out why Michael Essien could face up to 5 years of imprisonment in Indonesia...
    Read more...
  • Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 3: Messi settles thrilling Clasico as Barca go top of LaLiga...
    Read more...
  • Serena Williams to take time off from tennis after confirming pregnancy ....
    Read more...
  • Olympian Germaine Mason dies R03;after motorcycle ride with Usain Bolt....
    Read more...
  • Loud Sex sounds from nearby condo interrupt professional tennis match...
    Read more...
  • Carmelo Anthony Allegedly Impregnated Dancer...
    Read more...
  • Former NFL Star Aaron Hernandez Found Dead In His Prison Cell...
    Read more...
  • 5 things we learned from this week's round of matches...
    Read more...
  • How Ghana managed an unlikely ascension unto the African football throne...
    Read more...
  • NBA Playoff Openers: Grading The Superheroes And Trolls...
    Read more...