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Vegan petfood production: Key considerations for petfood producers wishing to reap the rewards of the latest emerging petfood trend

As more pet owners continue to show more concern for global issues such as health, sustainability and animal welfare, a growing number of people are turning to vegetarianism or veganism. Whilst the moral reasons behind these dietary changes are understandable, there also seems to be a trend of pet owners wanting to transform their carnivorous cats and dogs into plant eaters too.

A recent global survey showed that of 3673 cat and dog owners, a staggering 35 percent expressed interest in turning their meat-eating pets into vegans, but the fact remains that dogs and cats are not just little humans and owners must also be aware of the risks involved before thinking about feeding their pet a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Similarly, petfood manufacturers cannot just take the rabbit out of a recipe and label it vegan. In
order to achieve this standard, those involved in production must jump through a series of vigorous but understandable hoops before they can ‘badge’ their output accordingly.

Definition of veganism
In order to arrive at our chosen destination, vegan petfood production, a sensible course of action would be to first establish what the word vegan entails.

According to the Vegan Society, “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

But how does this philosophy translate to pet diets? Well although dogs do prefer meat, feeding one vegan or vegetarian diet is possible with the right supplements. This is because in general, dogs are omnivorous. They can eat meat, fish, and poultry, but also can derive nutrients from a wide variety of sources, including vegetables, grains, fruits, and legumes.

When it comes to the question of whether cats can be sustained on a vegan diet, the short answer is no, cats can’t be vegetarian or vegan. According to an article published online by IAMS, “Personal feelings and moral values aside, it is important to note that the cat is an obligate carnivore; they need to eat a meat-based diet.”

This is because taurine, an amino acid exclusively found in animal-based proteins, is an essential
nutrient for cats and deficiency can lead to blindness and/or heart failure. The cat’s body is unable to make sufficient quantities of it so requires a meat based diet to provide it. Whilst synthetic taurine supplements are available, these can vary in bioavailability.

Arachidonic acid (an essential fatty acid) is another example of a nutrient required by cats which is only available from animal sources, plus cats also need to sustain good levels of vitamin B12 found naturally in meat.

But there are some experts who believe cats can be put on a vegan diet. In an article written for Green for Life, Andrew Knight, a professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Winchester in the UK says that “cats, dogs, and indeed all species, have requirements for specific dietary nutrients, not ingredients.”

“There is no scientific reason why a diet comprised only of plant, mineral, and synthetically-based ingredients cannot be formulated to meet all of the palatability, nutritional, and bioavailability needs of the species for which they are intended.”

Vegan petfood production
When it comes to vegan food choices, consumers are looking for products that do not contain animal products or ingredients. Perhaps the most widely recognised and accepted certification in this regard is the Vegan Trademark. Introduced by the Vegan Society in 1990, the mark is designed to help people identify products that are free from animal ingredients, with its certification stamp featuring on more than 53,000 products worldwide.

According to an article published online by ROCOL, when it comes to preparation and processing, manufacturers already engaged in the production of vegan and free-from foods, or in managing allergens on site, will know that establishing robust manufacturing processes is key.

However, best practice should extend beyond manufacturing and into maintenance practices. This includes areas such as establishing approved and trusted supplier lists to ensure traceability throughout the supply chain, and setting up Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in line with Total Preventative Maintenance (TPM) or similar quality-led approaches.

Ingredient segregation and storage is incredibly important, and well thought out production schedules are instrumental in minimising cross contact and contamination. Where dedicated facilities are not available, production scheduling should consider the ingredients in all foods manufactured on lines involved in vegan food production.

One solution to this issue is the scheduling of vegan products first, whilst ensuring that the line is cleaned between foods with vegan and non-vegan profiles.

Maintenance & training
The products you select for cleaning and maintaining the equipment used to manufacture vegan products also have an important part to play. Most manufacturers are aware of the safety and traceability benefits of using food-grade lubricants and cleaners and look for the relevant NSF registration on the products they select.

Training is often overlooked, but knowledge can be the difference between using a vegan certified product on your machinery over a standard lubricant. It’s important that everyone in your team can look beyond ‘food grade’ as a catch-all for food factory maintenance products.

One such example of a vegan range of petfood which adheres to all of these considerations is the offering from Bright Planet – a company that is looking to change the world for the better with a petfood range made only from sustainable all-natural ingredients.

On the market now
Born out of a desire to create a brighter, better planet for everyone, Bright Planet Pet is the first company to launch plant-based dog treats that actually taste and smell like real meat. Katherine and Dave Ellison founded the company on the principle that dogs, and their people, deserve a sustainable dog treat that is delicious while being 100% plant-based and vegan.

All treats are made from sustainable all-natural ingredients, create up to 90% less carbon emissions, use up to 68% less water than comparable meat-based treats, and help pet parents reduce their dog’s carbon pawprint.

Currently, Bright Planet has three products – Better Burg’r, Better Brat, and Better BBQ Chick’n – providing a variety of meatless options. All products are made with chickpea flour, brown rice, dehydrated sweet potato, and dried brewer’s yeast; they are free-from corn, soy, wheat, and peas.

Better Burg’r is a 100% plant-based dog treat that tastes just like a meaty hamburger. Made from wholesome, all-natural ingredients; free from corn, soy, wheat, and peas; and of course, 100% plant-based, the company believes that this burger treat will satisfy dogs of all shapes and sizes!

Bright Planet treats create up to 90% less carbon emissions and use up to 68% less water than comparable meat-based treats. The treat is a circular burger shape and has a one inch diameter, and is approximately 0.25 inch thick and only 10 calories per treat.

Other available treats include Better Brat that tastes just like a juicy brat right off the grill, and Better BBQ Chick’n that’s just like a slow-smoked chicken drummy with BBQ sauce. For every purchase, Bright Planet donates to the Eden Reforestation Project to plant one tree.

In a recent taste test, 72% of dogs chose Bright Planet treats over a real meat treat. And that’s because the treats really do mimic the smell and taste of their meat counterparts. A recent winner of Purina’s Pet Care Innovation Prize, Bright Planet Pet products are available for purchase online at

Products that display the Vegan trademark must demonstrate that:

The manufacture and/or development of the product, and its ingredients, must not involve or have involved, the use of any animal product, by-product, or derivative.

The development and/or production of GMOs must not have involved animal genes or animal-derived substances. Products put forward for trademark registration that contain or may contain any GMOs must be labelled as such.

Any dishes that are to be labelled vegan must be prepared separately from non-vegan dishes.

Note from the editor:
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Article contributed by Andrew Wilkinson, International Petfood magazine.



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