Science and TechAnimals and Insects


Meat substitutes aren't just for humans. It's coming to pet food next

Meat consumption has a harsh environmental cost, giving rise to meatless alternatives for humans and now pets.
Posted at 9:03 PM, Mar 16, 2023

If you look at any pet food label in the supermarket or even in most commercials going back decades, the message is always something like "real meat" equals "better."

Dogs and cats eat a lotof meat. A UCLA study found that if the 163 million dogs and cats in the U.S. were a country, they'd be the fifth-largest meat eaters on earth. And processing all that meat releases 64 million tons of global warming carbon dioxide every year.

Those numbers got Rich Kelleman thinking about the impact of meat-eating pets on the environment. At the time, he was working in advertising for Burger King.

"There are challenges to producing meat and making meat when it comes to land, water, energy use, when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, when it comes to farm animal welfare, when it comes to pathogen risk," Kelleman said.

The more he learned, the less he liked.

"[I] ultimately became a vegan working for Burger King, which made for some interesting client conversations," he said.

That's when Bond Pet Foods was born, prompted by the idea of having an environmentally-friendly meat equivalent without slaughtering chickens, cows or fish.

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At a lab in Fort Collins, Colorado, the company is using a process called precision fermentation. It starts with a free-range chicken.

"We literally went to a heritage chicken farm outside of Topeka, Kansas, we found a chicken named Inga and we got a little bit of a sample of her blood," said Patrick Westfall, VP of research and development for the company.

Inga is still alive. Protein extracted from her DNA is combined with yeast in machines at the lab, and a new chicken protein is literally brewed — like making beer.

"We're going to take the yeast. We're going to get rid of all that liquid on top. We're going to dry it down," Westfall said.

The result is ground into a chicken protein powder that will one day be the main ingredient in pet food.

Once Bond Pet Foods' protein gets the necessary approvals, including from the FDA, Kelleman says the next step will be convincing pet owners to buy it.

"It is essentially brewing meat, and there's a craft to that," he said. "I think us celebrating that and articulating that will be attractive to a certain type of person."

There's growing evidence consumers, investors and pet food companies are hot on meat alternatives. One report predicts the plant-based pet food market will grow from $26 billion a year today to $57 billion by 2032.

Kelleman believes pet food made with his engineered protein will cost about the same as the traditional stuff, and pets, he says, won't know the difference.

"A dog's just hungry, and if it tastes good to their palate, they'll eat it," Kelleman said. "It doesn't have to have the structure of meat."

While Fido may love meatless dog food, the company hopes pet parents will also have an appetite — for helping the environment.

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