Ready meals for pet and owner?

Where will the trend for human food ingredients in pet food lead? The time for a rethink is now.

Whither the humanisation of pets?

In the 22nd Century, how will we view our pets and what will we be feeding them? With today’s market trends, you could be forgiven for thinking that the future for pet and human food could be the same. Picture this: food manufacturers turning out dual human/pet dinners for you and your furry friend to share. 

So what challenges does the pet food industry face, in light of continuing pet humanisation and rising demand for human food ingredients?

Truly human grade?

Currently much of the pet food industry uses sustainable human food by-products passed ‘fit for human consumption’. 

Usually these ingredients are less popular or not quite perfect for the human food market. However, after being further processed, or relocated to a pet food facility, they are no longer classed as suitable for human consumption.

True ‘human food ingredients’ are those that have been processed and treated in accordance with human food regulations, for human consumption. Today one of the biggest trends in pet food is inclusion of human food ingredients.

From a regulatory perspective, AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) states that: ‘There have been “human-grade” claims on some pet foods for a few years. This term has no definition in any animal feed regulations. 

Extremely few pet food products could be considered officially human edible or human-grade.’

Ultimately, to produce a ‘human grade’ pet food, all ingredients need to be edible for humans and should be manufactured according to human food regulations. 

An unsustainable trend

Is this sustainable? Can this humanisation trend continue? With a world population of over 7 billion humans and rising, demand for food is increasing at the same time as pet ownership is going up. According to Statista, in the US alone, 68% of households owned pets in 2017, up 56% from 1988. 

It is self-evident that the humanisation trend and demand for human food ingredients in pet food can only exacerbate ingredient scarcity.

Unhealthy too

Contrary to popular belief, few pets, in particular dogs, require human grade, grain free, high protein, limited ingredient diets, which can have a high environmental impact. 

The current humanisation of pets has influenced the pet-owner relationship, leading to issues with obesity, sedentary lifestyles and reduced opportunity for pets to express natural behaviours. According to Vet Innovations, in 2018, ‘nearly 100 million pets in the U.S. are overweight or obese, making weight the leading health threat to our nation’s companion animals today.’

Pressure on production 

Meanwhile, as product formats that mimic human food increase in popularity, traditional extrusion and tinned wet pet foods now require more innovation to maintain market share. 

Consequently some pet food manufacturers have invested in human food technologies such as baking and freeze drying.

Prepare for a sustainable future

So what will the 22nd Century bring? The dystopian Soylent Green’s depiction of environmental disaster may be more relevant than ever. Future pets may have limited food choice and ‘convenience meals’ could be off the menu. Today both the pet industry and pet owners need to work together. 

For industry, this means:

  • providing balanced nutrition using traditional pet food ingredients and formats 
  • education on the benefits of offal, carcass and meals for pets
  • research into new eco-friendly ingredients 
  • further collaboration with the human food industry on recycling opportunities.

For pet owners, understanding nutritional and lifestyle requirements is key: pets are not humans. Acceptance of them as family is fine, as long as species differences are recognised. Feeding pets a balanced diet of cereals and moderate levels of protein can have positive implications for both pet health and the environment. 

Will this be enough? It remains to be seen – only the future will tell.


Emma Passman

Animal nutritionist, technical consultant
Year of the salmon, special Southern Europe, Zoomark