A regenerative revolution — including pet food
In the afterglow of the COP21 climate agreement, I feel a resurgence of hope — an emotion that has been a challenge to sustain lately. Whatever its weaknesses, the unprecedented commitment of 200 countries — most of the world — to a common purpose is so astonishing that it seems as though anything may be possible.
We now know that processed and fast food — the “standard American diet” — isn’t good for us, and that the modern industrial agriculture it’s based on is equally bad for our planet. Now that these threats have been acknowledged by pretty much the whole world (with the notable exceptions of the industries still profiting from them: fossil fuels, industrial agriculture and their subsidiaries) it’s the moment when big ideas from the movement to restore balance to Earth can, and must, step up with carefully thought-through technologies, economies and philosophies of regeneration.
This isn’t to go backward but to acknowledge the ignored, if unintended, consequences of reckless and wasteful development, and build on hard-won knowledge to meet the current crisis. The word “sustainable” has a new gravitas now, but sustainability as a goal jumps over the immediate need, which is for regeneration of the natural, life-supporting systems of Earth we have all but destroyed. Regeneration is not so much about restoration as it is about cure. Earth is diseased, and to regain its health we will need to employ measures that are different from those that maintained health, before it was damaged.
Regenerative agriculture is one such treatment. Applied on the right scale, it can accomplish the carbon sequestration science tells us must happen if we’re to reach a point of carbon negativity, necessary to achieving the goal of under 1.5C degrees of warming. We know how to do it. The enemy is not ignorance but the political and economic will to take a longer-term point of view and stop rewarding the unfettered approach to exploiting resources for short-term profit we now know will kill us.
Which brings me to pet food, again.
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The pet food industry is now dominated globally by three companies: Mars, Nestle-Purina and Del Monte. Together they own between 95 percent and 98 percent of all commercial pet food brands in the world. It has had a good run and is still obscenely profitable, but it is in trouble, in the same way coal is in trouble, because its model is to sell an overpriced, inferior product to increasingly savvy consumers by doubling down on deceptive advertising and investing heavily in co-opting regulatory watchdogs.
One of the current projects of AAFCO, the entity responsible for setting quality standards in pet foods, is to define the difference between “food grade” or “human grade” ingredients and “feed grade” ingredients. The definition of feed grade encompasses a wide variety of unwholesome things, but AAFCO calls them “safe” — because they have been treated to kill or disperse to a safe level of contaminants, toxins present in their original forms. Like the sodium pentobarbital used to euthanize pets, and which survives the rendering of their bodies and turns up in the blood and tissues of dogs and cats who consume it in their food.
Currently, Big Petfood’s messaging is starting to unravel, resorting to the kind of greenwashing I doubt will cut much ice with pet parents. They’re saying, “look at the environmental benefits we provide by taking toxic industrial and agricultural waste that otherwise would be expensive to dispose of, and turning it into a profitable product.” They actually say that.
Fortunately, food, real whole food, is still around. To engage the momentum of the Paris accord, we can all begin as “regenerative consumers.” If inferior processed food does not serve either our well being or Earth’s we can join the search for real, long-term solutions. It will take care and thought and creativity. Some nutritionists and holistic vets are wondering about alternative proteins, like insects. But instead of a reckless rush to exploitation and marketing of this novel idea, exploration needs to be guided by long-term thinking and investment in honest research — a “make haste slowly” approach.
For us sextiped families, our love for pets may be our point of entry to the new global regeneration revolution, and 2016 the start of something stupendous. A new year of promise to you all!
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs. Sextiped Valley appears on the third Saturday of the month.
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