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We love our pets. There’s really no other way about it. We obsess over every slight move they make (admit it, your phone is crammed with pics) and we want to make sure that everything we give them – food, toys, treats – is safe for them. We will admit to sometimes caring more about the quality of the food we give to our pets than our own (… and by sometimes, we mean all the time). With this in mind, it’s no wonder that Americans spend over $70 billion a year on pet-related products and services. Unfortunately, as is the case with any big-money-making industry, sometimes the drive for profit leads to shortcuts that end up negatively impacting the consumer, the environment, and animals.
If you’re a pet parent, you’re probably familiar with food recalls due to bacterial contamination. While these incidents are fairly common along with other food products, pet food recalls have been conducted for low levels of pentobarbital, a euthanasia drug, and even some treats have been under warning by the FDA for causing serious and even fatal gastrointestinal obstructions. In less extreme cases, questions over the actual ingredients and quality of pet food have been under question, with many consumers wondering why fillers and meat byproducts are included in their animals’ meals. Like humans, pets can suffer from being overfed and undernourished thanks to low-quality pet food and suffer from obesity, diabetes, and a number of other diet-related ailments.
And this is just looking at the negative potential health impacts of pet food. When you zoom out and look at the environmental impact of feeding the more than 163 million dogs and cats in the U.S., it turns out that the meat for their food accounts for 30 percent of the total environmental impact of meat consumption, according to a study done by a professor at UCLA. Based on this research, it was discovered that if all cats and dogs made up their own country, that nation would take fifth place in global meat consumption. Captain Paul Watson, a prominent ocean conservationist, asserts that house cats consume more fish than the entire population of North Atlantic seals.
Basically, feeding pets, like feeding humans, using industrial animal agriculture, is not sustainable and it’s not even necessarily healthy. This is exactly the problem that Ryan Bethencourt, co-founder and CEO of Wild Earth, is trying to solve along with his team.
In a recent episode of the Eat for the Planet with Nil Zacharias podcast, Ryan gets into Wild Earth’s, a biotech startup developing clean high-protein pet foods that are healthier, better for the environment, and more humane than conventional products. Their debut product is a dog treat made with Koji, a type of fungi that is commonly eaten by people and is eco-friendly and can be renewably sourced.
In this conversation, Ryan explains how Wild Earth is using biotech to create dog food that contains all the amino acids and nutrients that pets need to thrive without the use of any animal ingredients, artificial flavors or preservatives, corn or soy. While this might seem like a small step in the grand scheme of things, as Ryan highlights, this is an issue that is tied to our larger food crisis.
Ryan is a biotech entrepreneur, investor, and one of the founders of the biohacker movement. Before co-founding Wild Earth, he co-founded IndieBio, an accelerator that helps scientists become entrepreneurs, and helped launch Memphis Meats, Clara Foods, New Wave Foods, and more. With his background as a scientist, Ryan is passionate about the future of biology as a technology and believes it can be applied across all industries to solve some of humanity’s most intractable problems.
While the environmental and health impacts of dog food might be just one of the issues that Ryan believes can be solved with the help of biology, he gets into much more in this podcast episode. He talks more about his work as an investor, shares anecdotes about his interactions with the pioneers of clean meat, investors like Peter Thiel, and gives his projection for what a future where our food system is engineered with the help of biotech would look like.
To learn more about how Wild Earth is changing the pet food game and more about Ryan’s exciting endeavors into the world of biotech, listen in.
You can listen to the full episode below or on the following platforms: iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and Stitcher.
If you like this episode, be sure to subscribe to the #EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias podcast for new episodes with food industry leaders, health, and sustainability experts, as well as entrepreneurs and creative minds who are redefining the future of food – and order your copy of the #EatForThePlanet book!
Image source: Grigorita Ko/Shutterstock