Pet Food Is Big Business…And It’s about to Change

The Lempert Report
May 12, 2021

If you are a pet owner, I’m sure you’ve noticed how the foods you feed your pets have changed.

Much like people food, pet food has evolved. Organic, fresh, cleaner ingredients, more nutritious even special foods for pets with allergies now line the store shelves. And, with these new products have come higher prices. Around 67 percent of households own at least one pet - 63.4 million households have dogs and 42.7 million own cats, and some have both. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, and in fact, according to a 2017 study published in the scientific journal PLOS One, if cats and dogs made up their own country, they would rank fifth in terms of meat consumption- and that translates to the creation of roughly 64 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

So just as we’ve seen from the likes silicon valley food startups there are a small handful of startups are working to cut animal agriculture out of the equation by using cell-cultured meat to feed all those pets. Rich Kelleman, CEO of Bond Pet Foods, a Boulder-based start-up using biotechnology which uses DNA extracted from a blood sample taken from a chicken (that’s still alive and well) at a Kansas farm to create cell-cultured meat for pets heads up one of those starts ups and points to “companies like Impossible [Foods] and Beyond [Meat] that he says laid the foundation for what a burger could look like and what nutrition could be. According to the Pet Food Industry, pet treats marketed with sustainable claims saw about 70 percent sales growth from 2015 through 2019, compared to about 30 percent of growth for treats without sustainable claims. “Pet food follows human food,” says Shannon Falconer, CEO of Because Animals, another pet food start up, who happens to have her Ph.D. in Philosophy and Biochemistry and was a post-doctoral fellow in Microbiology and immunology at Stanford. “We have very few options when it comes to feeding dogs and cats,” she says. “There’s a strong misconception that pet food is made from byproducts of human food. I began to learn how untrue that really is.”

Falconer set out to create a cell-cultured meat that could be fed to pets. The process involves taking “a small collection of cells from the [live] animal, and then never going back to the animal again,” she says. Falconer and her team feed the cells a mixture of protein, vitamins and other necessary nutrients and put them into a bioreactor, where the cells grow, divide and eventually form into tissue, which is effectively cultured meat. It has the same nutritional value and composition as animal-based meat, but without the need to raise or slaughter animals. To reduce its carbon footprint, pet food needs to evolve. “More than a quarter of the environmental effects of animal growing is due to the pet food industry,” says Falconer. “What this [cell-cultured] food would provide is the first environmentally sustainable, ethical meat for people to feed their pets.”