Transcript for Episode 15: Climate-Friendly Pet Parenting

This is the transcript of Episode 15: Climate-Friendly Pet Parenting of the How to Make a Difference podcast. Go to the episode page to listen to this episode and for the show notes. Furthermore, we encourage you to read our blog post on climate-friendly pet parenting.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Hey everyone!

Chinmai Gupta: Hey everyone!

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Are you a Star Wars fan, Chinmai? 

Chinmai Gupta: No? 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: The reason I’m asking is: This episode will air on May the fourth. And something that is being said a lot in the movies is “may the force be with you”.

Chinmai Gupta: Ooooohhh! 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Which is why this dates kind of celebrated in the Star Wars community.

Chinmai Gupta: Brilliant. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So Star Wars fans – we hear you. Thank you for listening. 

Chinmai Gupta: This episode is for you. And Elisabeth, didn’t you have one other announcement to make?

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah! So: We are now on Patreon!

Chinmai Gupta: Yay! 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yay! If you would like to support us, then you can hop on to Patreon. It’s just, you know, patreon.com/heyImpact. We’ll put the link in the show notes. And it would be really cool to have a few supporters. So you may not know: we are spending a lot of time and producing these podcasts. If you want to keep us going: It would be really cool, if you would support us. 

Chinmai Gupta: Yes, show us some love! 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We only accept Patreon love now that… just kidding. We accept any type of love.

Chinmai Gupta:  Any type? No! That doesn’t sound right.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Okay. Fair enough. Not any type.

Chinmai Gupta: We accept likes as well. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s true. But now, let’s get to the actual topic of the episode. Chinmai, I do want to tell us what we’re talking about today?

Chinmai Gupta: Yes! Tadaa! We’re talking about the climate impact of pets and pet food, a topic that I was absolutely not interested in when Elisabeth, you, presented it to me. Who cares… who cares about pets and their food? And how can that be relevant enough to talk about on our podcast, which is all about climate change? But then you convinced me otherwise, didn’t you? 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, yeah… it was actually… to be completely honest, this was also not on my awareness, this topic. But then someone reached out to me and suggested this topic. And I was like: Huh! There’s actually something to it!

Chinmai Gupta: Yeah, for me when I… when I started to hear notice was that… when he told me that 67% of all American households have at least one pet? 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. 

Chinmai Gupta: That’s a staff that made me sit up and take notice, yes. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. And in Germany, where we live, it’s a little less, it’s 47%. 

Chinmai Gupta: I think that’s also significant enough. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, yeah, that is quite a lot. 

Chinmai Gupta: And then we started digging into what sort of impact pet food has in terms of climate change. And that was even more significant. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: It is crazy. Like I found one stat that says that a quarter of all meat, consumed in the US is eaten by pets. I mean, that’s just mind boggling.

Chinmai Gupta: No way! That is huge! 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And the same source said that if US cats and dogs were a country, they would be the fifth biggest country in the world in terms of animal protein consumption. 

Chinmai Gupta: That is unbelievable. What was also shocking for me was finding out the footprint of the dog… It seems…

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Pawprint. I learned that you have to say pawprint.

Chinmai Gupta: Oh yes, it’s pawprint, isn’t it? So the pawprint of a dog is one tonne of CO2 per year. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, that’s crazy. 

Chinmai Gupta: That is… Yes. And just to put that into context: A person living in Germany has a carbon footprint of 10 tons per year, and a person living in India has a carbon footprint of two tons per year. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So basically, to average dogs equal the footprint of one person in India. 

Chinmai Gupta: That’s right. And I hope we can take a baby step towards changing that, today. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. And for the curious… because in Germany, I know, there’s many cat lovers: The average footprint of a cat is about 0.4 tons per year.

Chinmai Gupta: Which is also huge! 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And what’s interesting about this is that more than 50% of this pawprint comes down to food. 

Chinmai Gupta: That’s right.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So this is the largest chunk, which is why we’re gonna talk a lot about pet food, because this is really where you can make the biggest difference. 

Chinmai Gupta: And it seems like there are loads of trends out there in terms of pet food. People are talking about a vegan diet for their pets, or they’re now talking about incorporating ancient grains into pet food, or other people talking about no-grain pet food.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Then you have this raw meat trend, human grade versus byproducts. So it’s… it’s very,… it’s very confusing. 

Chinmai Gupta: And the byproduct topic itself is so complex. Our two guests for today’s episode have two completely different views on byproducts and their nutritional value in terms of pet food. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: The first guest we’re gonna be talking to today is Tracie Hotchner. She is a pet expert. And with her, we really wanna untangle all this confusion around all those pet food trends. 

Chinmai Gupta: And the second interview is with Hannah Lemmetti, who is the CMO of Alvar Pet, which is a sustainable pet food startup. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And it was actually her colleague, Benjamin Ohlhaeuser, who suggested this topic to me in the first place. So he is…

Chinmai Gupta: Oh is it?

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, it is. He is now responsible for Alvar Pet in Germany. 

Chinmai Gupta: All right. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Before we get into the interviews, we want to tell you what we will talk about in the mini-episodes. We’re gonna talk to three really, really fascinating pet food companies. One has a very strong focus on humanely raising the animals that they use for their pet food. Then there’s one that does veggie bases. And finally, we’re talking to a company that… working on lab-based meat. These are some really interesting and innovative companies that are… that have so different approaches to sustainability. And so we really hope you tune into those three mini-episodes. 

Chinmai Gupta: We’re also talking to Modena, which is a pet supplies company. And we are talking to a vet who will answer some of the most popular questions we have received through social media and some of our own. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We know so many people, you know, worry about their pets. You don’t want to give them food that isn’t healthy. So this is why we made sure to include a veterinarian.

Chinmai Gupta: So make sure that you check out our podcast next week for the first mini-episode. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And the week after…

Chinmai Gupta: And the week after…

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And the week after that as well. 

Chinmai Gupta: Yes!

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Just listen to all the episodes… like: what’s going on with you guys? 

Chinmai Gupta: Yes. So let’s start with the interview with Tracie. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We love Tracie, by the way.

Chinmai Gupta: We love Tracie.

Interview with Tracie Hotchner: 7:57

Chinmai Gupta: Tracie Hotchner, is a pet wellness advocate and author of two books: “The Dog Bible – Everything your dog wants you to know”, and “The Cat Bible – Everything your cat expects you to know”. She’s an expert in the area of pet nutrition, and an educator to both pet parents, and companies in the pet industry. Tracie is also the producer of the Radio Pet Lady Network, where she co-hosts nine pet-related talk shows with specialized vets, and top pet experts to explore all aspects of living with cats and dogs. Welcome, Tracie! We’re really pleased to have you!

Tracie Hotchner: Thank you so much. Lovely to be here. I also created the Dog Film Festival in the Cat Film Festival, which is only useful in the United States where – once COVID is over – it will travel again to a 100 cities where dog and cat lovers can enjoy short films about dogs and cats. So I just want to say that in case any of your audience are aspiring filmmakers, have always wished to make a film about a dog, a cat, their dog, their cat. I encourage them to go to the Dog Film Festival and the Cat Film Festival and see what it’s all about.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s quite cool. I would say I have a few cat videos to share, but I’m not sure if they’re film festival quality.

Tracie Hotchner: Well, hat’s the thing, Elisabeth. That’s the thing is that people like to look on YouTube at cats doing silly things. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Exactly.

Tracie Hotchner: This is the opposite of that. These are actual films made with an intention. Now, many of them are young female filmmakers and they’re shooting it on their phones. But they’re actually making a movie with a – if you will – a beginning, a middle, and an end, or a theme, or an idea. So it’s very easy to do and very difficult to do. A short film.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. I can immagine.

Tracie Hotchner: But that’s the fun part, this is the serious part. Like, you know, what are we doing right and wrong for our pets and for the planet.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Mhm. As you know, we’re trying to untangle the world of sustainable pet parenting. And we would like to start with all the various pet food trends that we came across during our research. Especially because,… if you… if you read online what they all say they,… they seem to be conflicting with each other. So you read one thing on one side, the opposite on the other side. So maybe we can just go through them one by one, and you can tell us what you can put that all into perspective a little bit. So why don’t we start with BARF: raw meat, bones and raw meat. So what’s up with that?

Tracie Hotchner: That’s a very old idea. So, so feeding your dog raw bones and meat, i.e. putting on the ground, which is what people did for a period of time. A small cult. It never ever took any kind of a foothold in pet ownership. They would put bones, meat bones – lamb, or beef, or pork, I guess – with meat attached to it and put it on the ground and expect everything from a dachshund, to a bull mastiff to make that their dinner. On.. they had this idea that this is what, you know, cave people and cave dogs ate.

Chinmai Gupta: Right.

Tracie Hotchner: It makes no sense. Nutritionally, it’s not a complete and balanced diet – there’s not enough protein in it and all bones crack teeth, and they splinter, and they wind up in the animal’s guts. And then you have the remains of raw meat and raw chicken… they were putting raw chicken, which is… got the most bacteria of any of meat, on the ground, on the floor… households with children. 

Chinmai Gupta: Right.

Tracie Hotchner: It’s sort of like the idea of the Paleo diet for humans. We are not cave-people, we are not Neanderthal, or whatever came next, any more than we’re gorillas. I mean our teeth, and our digestive systems and our lifestyle has completely changed our physiognomy, our physiology, and same with dogs. They are not… they descend from wild canids, but they are not wild canids. So we have to feed them appropriately.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So since you mentioned teeth already: That’s one of the questions we got and on social media – that dog’s teeth are meant to eat meat.

Tracie Hotchner: So are ours. So are chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are meat-eaters, too. They’re actually omnivores, dogs. There’s no such thing as teeth being meant to do something. They’re meant to ingest and begin the digestive process with the saliva of whatever you can get down your gullet. Teeth are meant to grind up whatever you put in the mouth, and then go down the digestive tract, they are not intended for a particular food item, or category. 

Chinmai Gupta: Right, and on the other end of the spectrum, we have the vegan and vegetarian diets, now. So, how about you talk a little bit about those please.

Tracie Hotchner: Well, if they’re made by pet food companies – and the ones that I’m aware of are both in Europe and here – they’re, they’re complete and balanced. I mean, that’s what they’ve tried to achieve by removing any animal product for the moral desires of the human. So for dogs. When they’re made professionally, you cannot just feed your dog, a piece of tofu, and, you know, six stalks of kale and think that he’s going to live a nice long life and have good heart function, right? But if it’s a professional, if you will, pet food company…

Tracie Hotchner’s dogs: Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof!

Tracie Hotchner: Oh, I’m sorry the dogs… My dogs don’t like to have a vegan diet, may I just tell you…

Elisabeth Ignasiak: I see, I see… Commenting…

Tracie Hotchner: Very commenting…

The pet food companies have balanced it. So it’s the right amount of calcium – wildly important to dogs. And however they’ve manipulated protein and I mean manipulated in a very positive way, is not acceptable for cats. You can, on paper, manipulate a diet to look on paper, like, oh, this has, this percentage of protein, but it’s not from animal flesh, it’s from plants, and this percentage of fat, both of which are very important to cats. Cats are obligate carnivores. They have a short digestive tract intended to only take in, about the size of one mouse, one lizard, one bird. Technically,

Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s really interesting.

Tracie Hotchner: It’s a short digestive system, and it cannot process carbs. And the reason we have obesity in cats is because people are feeding highly processed carbohydrates to an obligate carnivore. But it has to be meat. So, vegan food for cats could, you know, technically, scientifically, but look, this is fine, but it isn’t because the cat is a, is not a small dog in any way: not in behaviour, not in history, and not in their digestive system. Unlike dogs, cats have not changed since they hung out at the pyramids. They have not changed physically, emotionally, if you will, their drive, their instincts are the same, and their digestive systems the same. You’d still be feeding carbohydrates that are masquerading as protein. I mean maybe somebody has manipulated, those plant materials in a laboratory at God knows what expense.

Chinmai Gupta: Sure. So you’re saying cats are carnivores, and they need meat in their diet, but dogs are omnivores and could potentially be vegetarian if fed right. 

Tracie Hotchner: Oh, absolutely. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s really interesting. Since you already mentioned carbohydrates… So something else that we came across was: So Chinmai saw some advertisements saying: ah there is this special ancient grains that are so good. Whereas, I came across some advertisements for pet food that says: oh, this is grain-free. So what’s up with grains?

Tracie Hotchner: Good question. This is a curiosity. About 20-25 years ago, pet foods were made with the leftovers of human food production. That meant the leftovers of corn and the leftovers of wheat. Which is back in the 1800s, how an American first started making pet food in London. That was the first made biscuits, if you will, which later turned into what we now think of as kibble. So it was very handy. It was great.

Chinmai Gupta: Right.

Tracie Hotchner: But a moment came when the public, driving the train of what goes into pet food said: But wait, we want… we were against wheat! Everyone to have heard about gluten and wheat intolerance and decided that dogs and cats would have wheat intolerance. This is a made-up idea, btw. But it became kind of trendy, a fad. 

Chinmai Gupta: It is.

Tracie Hotchner: Okay, so now… there’s some companies that are okay we’re going to use ancient grains. What in God’s name is an ancient grain? And this is like a made-up idea, okay? Ancient -like how old? 50 years old? 10,000 years old? Things found in Mayan tombs? What are they talking about? This is marketing.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So, it sounds like basically a lot of these pet food trends, sort of follow human food trends which…

Tracie Hotchner: Completely follow human trends, because what does a pet food company need? They need people to buy their food. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah.

Chinmai Gupta: Sure. Just slightly away from grains and meat: We’ve also been reading about insect-based pet food. What are your views on that?

Tracie Hotchner: It’s curious, it’s going to create a sub-industry, if it takes off – then I don’t know that it will, but a whole industry now, the most happy raised crickets. For people who are vegans or vegetarians, I think it presents a very interesting idea, but we just have to make sure about things like unintended consequences.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Are there any health implications for pets on insect food?

Tracie Hotchner: I don’t see that there would be, I mean, no one’s gonna study it. Remember: Studies on pet food are only done, if it benefits somebody they’re very expensive to do. I… again, if it’s really balanced and they found a way to balance, which I’m sure they have so that it passes the feed control regulations of how much of so many things should be in it for health, then that should be fine.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Okay. Let’s dive into one other controversy that we already spoke about before a little bit, which is the human-grade food, which is basically from what we understand the same quality as we as humans would eat, versus using byproducts, which, of course, from a sustainability standpoint, makes a lot of sense. Because if you throw things away anyways that might be fine for pets to eat and we’re just, you know too fickle to want to eat, as humans, why wouldn’t you give that pets?

Tracie Hotchner: Okay, so let me explain to you what byproducts are. I don’t know how they go about doing byproducts, in Europe, but I can tell you in America, that the first word for the lowest quality food to be avoided by one and all, is byproduct meal. Byproducts are not what you think in your heart. Oh, it’s just the kidneys, and maybe it’s the kidneys and the liver, or the heart. Possibly, that’s what you think. But in fact, it is everything is leftover after every little bit of meat… Take a chicken. It’s easiest, but beef is the same… every single… there’s machinery: first humans, and then machines or vice versa. They get every scrap of meat off of the bones because all of that can be used. It’s used to make chicken nuggets, it’s used to make all kinds of beef products for humans. So what’s left is very very little meat, which is where the protein is. 

And so you have cartilage and joints and you… and when you have byproducts, you have food, that is no longer human edible. So, all the organ meats are already eaten by humans. So what’s leftover is really the leftovers. 

Chinmai Gupta: Sure.

Tracie Hotchner: And byproduct is handled without the safety controls that meat is handled with, so they can go above a certain temperature, they can be left to fester to rot if you will. Because they’re boiled. Again, boiled may not be the exact word that’s used in every process. But generally, it’s huge, boiling vats, into which everything is thrown and boiled to a fairly well… and then ground up and then dry, all with big fancy very expensive equipment. So, the byproduct meal is not… it’s not meat, there’s no meat in it. 

Human-grade foods are definitely… human-grade pet foods using human-grade ingredients are completely different. When something comes into a factory and where human food is also made the level of refrigeration, of cleanliness, of spotlessly clean workspaces and storage facilities, it’s just completely different. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Thank thank you for that perspective. The last one we wanted to mention is humanely raised and handled animals. Can you just briefly speak about that?

Tracie Hotchner: I think it’s one of the most important things that we can make a choice about – again, this depends on how much money you have – to only source, or raise yourself as a pet food company, humanely raised animals that are certified humanely raised. Costs more money, it takes more land, it takes more stewardship, the way that they’re housed and fed, whatever freedom they’re given, cost’s a great deal more than a factory-farmed animal. And humanely slaughtered is very hard to come by. In America, humane slaughterhouses are few and far between. Very rare. I think it’s really important that we pay some kind of respect and honour to the animals we’re eating. The way ancient people used to, you know, say a prayer or what have you light a candle whatever used to be done before they slaughtered the lamb or the goat.

I feel guilty I don’t eat all the food I eat because I can’t access it, you know. So I think it’s a moral and ethical personal choice: if you can support those companies because it matters to you. It makes a difference. Where you spend your money makes a difference. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: For sure. 

Chinmai Gupta: And that’s really well said.

Tracie Hotchner: Well, I appreciate what you ladies are doing. I think it’s great.

Chinmai Gupta: Thank you. 

Tracie Hotchner: I think raising these questions is really important. And I think your generation, the next generations beyond you, they care they ask, they look, they want transparency they want information and I think that’s really important. We have to hold all of ourselves accountable in everything we do.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Thank you so much, Tracie. Maybe one last thing, where can people find you?

Tracie Hotchner: They can go to radiopetlady.com That’s the easiest place because all my shows are on there, and blogs and so forth. That’s the easiest and everything else goes from there. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Cool.

Chinmai Gupta: Thank you so much, Tracie.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Thank you, Tracie.

Tracie Hotchner: Thank you both so much for all that you’re doing.

Discussion: 22:24

Chinmai Gupta: That was really interesting, wasn’t it? 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I really liked how she put all those trends into perspective. I have to admit, before talking to Tracie, I was so confused about all this conflicting information you find on the internet. And so it was really helpful to get her views on that. 

Chinmai Gupta: I know! Even small things like ancient grains. I loved her perspective. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: I loved it too.

Chinmai Gupta: Because the first time I came across that term ancient grains, I was like: Okay, and what are the modern grains, then? Did we invent some? 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, yeah.

Chinmai Gupta: So, yes. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Before we jump into the next interview, one thing you should keep in mind is that things are handled very differently in the US and in Europe. So for example, when we talk about byproducts 

Chinmai Gupta: Tracie and Hannah have very different views. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. As far as we understand a lot of that comes down to differences in regulation between the US and Europe.

Chinmai Gupta: All right, let’s jump into the conversation that we had with Hannah. 

Interview with Hanna Lemmetti: 23:35

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We are talking to Hanna Lemmetti, today, she is the CMO and co-founder of Alvar Pet. Welcome Hannah. 

Chinmai Gupta: Welcome, Hannah!

Hanna Lemmetti: Thank you so much! Super excited to be here. 

Chinmai Gupta: Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do with Alvar Pet, please.

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, I’m Hanna Lemmetti, one of the cofounders of Alvar, and I’m in charge of my marketing before all that I used to work in a creative agency where I was doing branding and marketing for Finnish and international clients so like, and I think most importantly, I’ve had dogs in my life as a hobby. Since I was like seven years old.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So what does Alvar do? Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that?

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes. We are on a mission to minimise the carbon pawprints, starting with dogs. We started with Alvar a bit over a year ago, that was the beginning of 2020. We were worried and also frustrated that there were no holistically, eco-friendly solutions available for our dogs. And that was the start. We decided to do something about it. And what we do we make food for the conscious pup – that’s our slogan as well. We make dog food, treats, and supplies as a subscription service. We start from our website, we deliver it direct to dog. It’s our mission and the core of our existence to be sustainable. And we minimise emissions throughout our supply chain.

Chinmai Gupta: That’s very interesting. So maybe you can start asking you about how the dog food is made. Tell us a little bit about the ingredients that you use.

Hanna Lemmetti: We use sustainable and local sourcing and we develop the recipes together with our Danish production partner. When you look at dog food and how its emissions are formed, most of it is from ingredients, and it’s extremely important to choose them wisely.

It starts from sourcing the ingredients, and then kind of making sure that they are both sustainable and nutritious for the dog so that we can make the balanced recipe that is also healthy, as well as sustainable.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We actually wanted to dig a little bit deeper into that because we, we heard a lot of criticism about, you know, meat byproducts being really low quality and that’s something you should never feed your pets. Can you speak to us a little bit about: What exactly are those ingredients?

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes, in some of our recipes we absolutely use meat production byproducts from poultry, that is. We don’t use red meat in our recipes because that’s a lot more harmful. 

The perception that byproducts ingredients from animal protein would be somehow lower quality, it’s not… not true, in fact, because you… There’s a lot of these nutritious nutritious parts as the intestines, for example, that are very… well… They’re nutritious, they’re packed with protein and flavour. And if you treat the produce right it’s going to make for delicious food for dogs or humans for that matter, like a lot of the food that is going to waste, could still be used as human nutrition as well.

Chinmai Gupta: Right, and so these ingredients that you’re sourcing, are they also organic?

Hanna Lemmetti: Yeah, our ingredients are not,… not organic, per se. It’s very rare to have organic produce in pet food and it’s also, also a bit off since we are focusing more on co2 and then organic is not always the same.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So from what I understood… from the meat production there are some ingredients that technically are human-grade, but for whatever reason, they’re being wasted. And so you save them and use them for your dog food.

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes, that’s exactly it. Moreover, when we talk about the human grade trend that is as somewhat popping in in the pet food industry. It’s saying that dogs should have the best cuts of meat as well, which is very harmful or wasteful for the environment perspective. So, yes, the byproducts could be used for human nutrition as well if they were treated that way.

Chinmai Gupta: I think what you’re saying is humans are not always interested in every part of the animal. And so some of those parts are then used for pet food. The criticism that Elizabeth and I are talking about: the machinery these days for meat production is so sophisticated that it strips down all pieces of meat from the bone. So if you’re using those bones and byproducts, there’s really nothing in it for the animal for the pet.

Hanna Lemmetti: That’s a good, good point and I do wish that that would be where the like human food industry will get, but at the moment we’re seeing from studies that for example with poultry, 35% is still like usable for pet food, but it’s, well, for example, the poultry that we use, there’s no bones, there’s no feet in it, but it is the intestines, etc. that are not used for human nutrition at the moment. 

Chinmai Gupta: Oh, that sounds really good.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, so it’s not let’s say the feathers, and the bones and the cartilages, it’s more the intestines that you’re using. 

Hanna Lemmetti: Yeah, that’s the horror story that people have in their mind, that’s it feeding like beaks or feet or… No, that’s not what we use. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Okay, that’s really good to know. 

Chinmai Gupta: I was reading some of the products on your website, and I saw that on some on quite a few products you say no grains are used. Could you perhaps tell us, what if there’s any correlation between grains and climate change? 

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes, grain-free product is something that is somewhat trending in the pet food industry and a lot of people are seeing sensitivities, from their dogs. And therefore it was a highly requested product from us to have grain-free recipes. But most dogs are very capable of using grain for their like energy intake, and that’s why for example we love oats as an ingredient in our foods because it’s a good source for energy, that is also very sustainable. So if we would rather use only, for example, rice or maize or sweet potato which are very common ingredients for dog food. That would make the emissions a lot higher because, for example, rice, it needs a lot more water and it’s not,… it’s not locally produced in Europe.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So, one thing I was wondering. We talked about you know, you using the things that wouldn’t be for human consumption anymore. So, I was wondering, isn’t that what happens anyway, in the pet food industry? So, why is your product better than what is out there in the market?

Hanna Lemmetti: It’s very common that like the pet food industry will use byproducts of animal protein, but that’s only one side of the story. And there’s other things that you can do in a smarter way from the sustainability perspective.

Poultry is one of our ingredients that is the byproduct, but then we also use for example wild fish, or, or game that are both like even more sustainable and more ethical in a sense as well. For example, with the wild fish that we use it’s fished from the Baltic Sea. There are these fish that there’s not enough like demand for human plates such as Baltic herring. If the water is not like maintained in a sense that the fish is not fished off the waters, it will become more polluted.

Chinmai Gupta: Right.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So you’re using basically the fish that is less popular for humans – you’re using it for pet food. 

Hanna Lemmetti: Yeah, a lot of fishermen are just fishing it, and then throwing it up,

Chinmai Gupta: Throw it away, right, Okay.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Interesting. So one thing we haven’t spoken yet about is maybe we can take a step back and look at climate impact more general. Can you put that into perspective, a bit?

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes. It’s of course a very complex question in the sense that the answer depends on what your, how you measure it.

I will use a recently published study, called the Global Environmental pawprint of pet food by Alexander et al. It was published in November. And their findings were that the pet food industry emissions are a lot higher than previously has been thought. And what’s even more concerning is that it’s rapidly growing. The reason for that is two-fold. Firstly, the popularity of pets is growing very fast, all over the world. Secondly, their kind of status in the family has grown, and that has led to the industry premiumisation and people buy more stuff, and more like luxurious nutrition etc. for their pets. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So, premiumisation meaning that it’s more and more high quality those premium cuts for the pet that also are more CO2 intensive. 

Hanna Lemmetti: Exactly. So, these two developments, together, are… are very worrying for the environment.

Chinmai Gupta: Right. And so what else are you doing at Alvar Pet to try and reduce the impact.

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes, so if we look at our supply chain, it’s, well first, it’s the ingredients. Then in production where we use renewable energy. Our packaging is recyclable, something that we work really hard on because it’s not, it’s not a standard at all in the pet industry. And then we have the direct to dog delivery model so that we don’t have multiple warehouses. So, after minimising… minimising the emissions throughout the supply chain, we then compensate the rest of it.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Cool. Let’s get down to the impact of Alvar: How much CO2 are you saving per dog per year?

Hanna Lemmetti: If you’re feeding what is categorised as premium dog food, switching to Alvar is gonna reduce the carbon pawprint by 84% and whereas if you swap from market category food, it’s 54%. 

Chinmai Gupta: Sure so you’re saying premium categories have a much larger carbon footprint than average market category.

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes. definitely. With a premium category, there’s a lot more red meat for example and beef and lamb as ingredients. They’re only 5% of pet food, in total, but they make up 50% of the pet food industry emissions. 

Chinmai Gupta: Wow.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So, talking about paw prints and sustainability. You know, I was talking to Benjamin before, and he was telling me that you’re also looking into insect-based food.

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes, we are super excited about insect proteins and we are in recipe development phase and hoping to roll out the new product during summer.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Ah. Very exciting!

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes. As far as we understand a moment, insects are superior in terms of CO2 emissions compared to animal-based protein but also with plant-based, you will need less water and less land or areas. Comparing to for example poultry byproduct insects would be 10 times less emissions. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Oh really? It would say, even less than using products that could go to waste anyway. 

Hanna Lemmetti: Yeah, there are obviously some emissions allocated for the byproducts as well because you can use it for bioenergy or something like that.

Chinmai Gupta: And how would that compare to a vegetarian or a vegan-based diet?

Hanna Lemmetti: Comparing to the alternatives that we have in Europe – they are soy, or maize, or rice, which are not available in Europe. So that’s… that’s the distance,… or the transportation that is minimised when you use, for example, European insects.

And also, all of those mentioned, plant-based ingredients – they do require quite a lot of water, or land to be produced. Whereas insects, they can live off waste, and don’t require that much space. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, that’s actually a really interesting point that you’re making that, you know, vegan pet food might have a lower carbon footprint, but it depends on where you live on the world whether it needs to be shipped very far or not.

Hanna Lemmetti: Yes, definitely. And we have a vegetarian recipe and our portfolio, but we use South American soy, as the kind of main protein ingredient because there’s not soy available in Europe, for pet food. 

Chinmai Gupta: Sure, and at the moment you’re only doing dog food, do you plan to venture into, say, cat food?

Hanna Lemmetti: At some point, absolutely, cat food is very highly requested from our customers, and also cat people who would love to be our customers.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And currently you’re available where?

Hanna Lemmetti: In Germany and Finland.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Cool, then maybe tell our listeners where they can find you.

Hanna Lemmetti: You can find us at alvarpet.com and of course on our social media alvarpet.

We post a lot of things about our carbon pawprints, topics, etc., so… And dog pictures.

Chinmai Gupta: Yes. We absolutely loved your story and I hope that you can inspire other dog and pet food companies with the work that you’re doing.

Hanna Lemmetti: Thank you. I really do think that the industry is about to change and it’s very exciting to see how much, how excited people are about the topic, once we start the conversation. And there are great startups doing the similar mission so we can push that change together.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Thank you so much for coming on our show. It was really nice to have you. 

Chinmai Gupta: Thank you for me as well.

Hanna Lemmetti: It was my pleasure.

Discussion: 36:55

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I quite enjoyed the interview with Hanna and her perspective. 

Chinmai Gupta: What I really liked about Alvar pet is that they are thinking about cutting emissions from the entire supply chain. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. 

So they’re not just thinking about the meat. But they’re also thinking about the transportation, they’re also thinking about the packaging, and whatever they are not able to cut in terms of emissions they buy carbon credits for. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. And if you want to learn more about carbon offsets, you should listen to episode six, and seven, and eight, and nine, which is our carbon offsetting series. 

Chinmai Gupta: Oh Elisabeth… Stop. You’re not getting paid for this advertisement. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We can advertise our own podcast on our podcast. 

Chinmai Gupta: Okay, fair enough. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s it for today. Check out our future episodes! 

Chinmai Gupta: I can assure you as a non-pet-person that they are really interesting. So do tune in.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Exactly, if even Chinmai could be converted…

Chinmai Gupta: Then so can you.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Exactly. Make sure to tune in. Bye-bye! 

Chinmai Gupta: Bye-bye.