Just last week a report found that American citizens’ insatiable appetite for meat is resulting in the largest-ever “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Now we’ve learned that furry family members are just as guilty when it comes to environmental degradation. According to a new study, American cats and dogs rank 5th in global meat consumption – and they’re responsible for up to 30% of the environmental impact of meat in the US.
In his research, UCLA professor Gregory Okin was interested to learn what effect household pets have on the environment. “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 found that the meat consumption by pet dogs and cats creates the equivalent of about 64 million tons of CO2 annually. To put that into perspective, that’s about the same climate impact as a year’s worth of driving 13.6 million cars.
Okin confesses he has nothing against household pets, but their contribution to climate change cannot be overlooked. “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,” said the UCLA professor. “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.”
According to the study published in the journal PLOS, if cats and dogs ruled their own country, they would be responsible for an astounding 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the U.S. In fact, household pets’ meat consumption fall behind only Russia, Brazil, the United States and China. As a result of, they produce 5.1 million tons of feces each year — as much as 90 million Americans, writes Alison Hewitt of UCLA.
In the study, Okin cited previous research that found the American diet “produces the equivalent of 260 million tons of carbon dioxide from livestock production.” He then calculated how much meat 163 million cats and dogs consume compared to 321 million Americans. This data helped him establish how many tons of greenhouse gases are tied to pet food. It turns out cats and dogs in the U.S. consume 19 percent as many calories as American people do — that’s the same amount as the entire population of France! Additionally, about 25 percent of cats’ and dogs’ diets are meat-based.
Okin concluded the best thing humans can do to benefit the environment is to compromise the quality of meat they serve their furry family members. “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?”
“I’m not a vegetarian, but eating meat does come at a cost,” he added. “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.”
Images via Pixabay