Have you ever taken a really long, hard look at pet food? I mean, like, dug into those fatty chunks of ambiguous meat that look like the inside of a petrol station pork pie—but for dogs?
If you do happen to stop and think about what you’re spooning into Sir Snuffles’ customised feeding bowl, you’ll soon realise that it’s about as ethical and healthy as a Poundland steak and kidney pie. And not nearly as tasty.
A US start-up is hoping to fix this. Responding to the problem of vague ingredient lists and unethically sourced meat in pet foods, Colorado-based company Bond Pet Foods hopes to introduce lab-grown meats to the cat and dog food market. Founded by former advertising executive Rich Kelleman, the company aims to provide ethical food for pets, without leaving them malnourished.
Animals do not have to be slaughtered in the production of lab-grown meat, which means it bypasses some of the ethical problems associated with meat consumption. By using regenerated cells—such as foetal bovine serum from unborn calves' blood—scientists are able to grow them using sugars and oxygen into meat, which can be harvested. It sounds weird, but maybe not as weird as killing something that was alive in the first place in order to eat its flesh.
But when it comes to the ethics of feeding pets a no-meat, there is much debate. Alison Thomas, a senior vet at UK animal charity Blue Cross, told MUNCHIES: “We wouldn’t recommend feeding pets a vegan-only diet. Pets need a balanced diet, cats in particular have very specific nutritional requirements which would be unlikely to be met by a vegan diet.”
However, Thomas understands the desire to know more about what goes in our pet food. She added: “We would always support people knowing more about what is in their pet’s food and manufacturers being transparent with ingredients and the source of these so that pet owners can make a balanced choice.”
Mimi Bekhechi, director of international programmes at PETA, meanwhile, told us that it is possible to feed pets a nutritionally balanced vegan diet. She said: “Commercial pet foods can be full of all sorts of nasty stuff—even the thought of ingesting these ‘ingredients’ would be enough to turn any human's stomach. Anyone looking to give their four-legged family members compassionate and healthy food can start right now by researching a well-planned vegan diet enriched with certain supplements.”
Bond Pet Foods is still in its early stages, but it’s far from the only start-up looking to science to help us (and our pets) consumer meat more ethically. Food technology companies like Memphis Meats and The Good Food Institute have been working on in vitro meat for a number of years now, but the developments are far from becoming economically viable—especially for pet food. Memphis Meats sold its lab-grown meatballs for $1,000 each, which is about as far away from “just grab some cheap pet food from the offy on your way home” as you can get.
Unless you think Sir Snuffles is worth it, of course.