It’s one of life’s daily frustrations: your oat milk latte costs more than the dairy version. Your soy-based meatballs are £2 more expensive than the beef ones. Your cashew-based camembert is three times the price of the cow’s cheese equivalent! And now that plant-based dog food is a thing, we’re experiencing déjà vu – how is it that taking out an ingredient makes something more expensive?
You’re right, it makes no sense. Rearing animals for food – housing them, feeding them, giving them medical care, transporting them and, of course, slaughtering them – is far more expensive than simply growing plants for you and your dog to eat directly. So who’s paying for all those additional costs? Well, actually… it’s still you.
The hidden cost of cheap meat
Meat, dairy and eggs are cheap because they’re heavily subsidised by the government. Government subsidies are financial grants funded by public tax money (yes, yours!) and given to certain industries to lower production costs. Today, billions of pounds of public money are spent subsidising animal agriculture. According to the UK government department DEFRA, as much as 90% of the annual profit of livestock farmers comes from subsidies, compared to only 10% of the annual profit of fruit farmers. We Shih Tzu not: your taxes are being used to keep the most unsustainable, unethical and unhealthy industries afloat, leaving plant-based producers to fend for themselves – and forcing up their prices.
What's more, the meat-based pet food industry is supporting the false economy of animal agriculture. If it is to make a profit while selling its main products at low prices, the animal farming industry also needs to sell its by-products (the bits of meat that humans won’t eat) in dog and cat food. In fact, ‘rendering’ these by-products to make pet food is a significant income strand for intensive farming. The National Renderers Association (NRA) in the US reveals that “the sustainability of animal agriculture depends on a reasonable and practical use of the by-products generated.”
Woah there… “depends on”? So, animal farming couldn’t exist without the pet food industry? Well, the NRA admits that the meat that humans won’t eat – like bones, fat, blood, feathers and internal organs – “is a large volume of by-product that would quickly overtake landfills if not rendered”. Rendering and selling this by-product in meat-based dog food keeps animal agriculture sustainable and it’s yet another factor helping to keep meat cheap.
Of course, it’s not just the meat that’s cheap. Supermarket monopolies have pushed down the price of milk below the cost of the production, not great for farmers but even more disturbing when we think about the high price paid by cows. The average price of a dozen eggs is less than £1 despite rising costs in feed, energy, labour and packaging. The UK also allows meat and dairy to be sold at 0% VAT and many have argued that a ‘meat tax’ should be introduced to discourage people from buying unhealthy, high-carbon-emission animal products.
An opportunity for pawsitive change?
That’s because the most obvious way to shift government funding to plant-based farming (thus lowering the price of vegan alternatives) is to get people to buy less meat, dairy and eggs and to buy more vegan fodder - for humans and dogs. In 2018, UK farmers received around £3.5 billion in EU agricultural subsidies, of which roughly £700 million was used to subsidise factory farming. But now that we’ve left the European Union, the UK is free to design its own farming policy. Policymakers are already exploring a “public money for public goods” approach, which means farmers could be paid to provide wildlife habitat, welfare improvements and a more nutritious food supply, including more organic plant-based foods. If we want these kinds of policies to become more than a doggy dream, we need to make conscious choices about where we spend our money. We need to buy out of the fake, unsustainable economy of ‘cheap’ animal products.
The price of manufacturing ‘novel’ food
Another reason why we’ll see plant-based dog food become more affordable as it becomes more mainstream is to do with manufacturing. A practical but boring answer to why plant-based pet food is more expensive is because it’s still a relatively new concept. That means there are only a few manufacturers who have the skills, equipment and cleaning processes to create meat-free dog food. So while plant-based pet food remains an ‘anomaly’, us and other plant-based startups are charged extra to have additional staff working on their ‘special’ products. Machines need to be carefully washed down before being used to avoid contamination of the plant-based food and, with every production run, extra workers need to be present to ensure quality control and safety.
Okay, fine. But in order to get cheaper pet food later, we have to pay £3 for a can of dog food now? In the middle of an economic crisis? You must be barking!
We know: it’s a vicious cycle. While plant-based options continue to be more expensive, there's less incentive and, during today’s cost-of-living crisis, less ability to choose them over cheaper meat, egg and dairy-based food. Especially when it comes to feeding our dogs, who tend to be less fussy about what they nosh and often need a lot of food. Yet farming animals for pet food is destroying the environment and, with 73% of farmed animals in the UK kept in factory farms, cruelly exploiting our four-legged friends.
Can you put a price on health?
So aside from not wanting to subsidise a cruel and environmentally damaging industry, is there any other motivation to pay more for vegan pet food? What about the health of our dogs?
You bet. You're paying for quality. Most cheap, commercial meat-based food has a low percentage of actual meat content, padded out with poor-quality cereals, and the meat that is included is more often than not the rubbishy by-products that humans won’t eat. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with giving offal or strange bits of animal to dogs, most of us would like some transparency about what we’re feeding. Furthermore, chemical toxins in the environment build up (bioaccumulate) in animals the higher we move up the food chain, meaning that when our pets eat other animals they also consume the nasties that those animals ate. In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that processed and/or red meat consumption is linked to cancer in humans, urging us to reduce the amount of meat we eat – surely we should be concerned for our dogs too? That’s not all: rancid fats are often present in commercial meat-based diets, a leading source of free radical production in dogs. These free radicals, unstable atoms that can damage cells, have been linked to arthritis, cancer and premature ageing.
Now compare this toxic meaty cocktail with the ingredients in our plant-based meals: fresh papaya for healthy digestion, vitamin-rich kale, whole lupin beans for gut health, pea protein for strength, butternut squash for tummy fibre, broccoli for calcium, blueberries for immunity, hemp seeds for joints, algal oil for omega 3 and 9, sunflower seeds for skin and shine, and blackberries for waggy energy. In every spoonful of THE PACK, you can see visible veg, pulses and fruits, rather than an overcooked grey mush. When you pay extra for this kind of delicious plant-based food, you’re investing in all the nutrients your dog needs without the nasties. So, in the long-term, you may end up spending less money on vet bills!
Finally, when you invest in an environmentally conscious brand like ours, you're also paying for sustainable packaging, making sure no part goes to landfill. The funky multipack protects the metal cans, ensuring no food waste, and is made of 100% recyclable paper, even down to the anti-tamper tape. Plus, our corrugated material typically contains 70% recycled content and absolutely all our paper materials come from FSC sources.
Of course, this is all academic if you have a limited budget to spend on dog food. We get it. But even if you can’t afford to feed a plant-based food for every meal, there are huge benefits to investing in it as an occasional treat or mixing just half a can with your dog’s regular daily dinner. Even doing Meat Free Mondays with your dog means less £s going to animal farming and more demand for vegan alternatives. Every positive move towards putting plant-based food on a level playing field with meat counts, whether it’s a Chihuahua-sized step or a Great Dane’s stride!
Are we asking the right question?
Instead of questioning why plant-based dog food is so expensive, we need to start asking, loudly: “Why is meat-based dog food so cheap?” As dog guardians and advocates for animals and the planet, we need to demand more transparency from the meat industry. We should know exactly what we’re paying for and how we’re paying it.
At a time when every penny counts, the real scandal isn’t the high price of vegan pet food but the hidden costs of those ‘cheap’ cans of meaty dog food: the price we pay via our taxes, the price paid by animals in factory farms, the price paid by our pets’ health (and by us in veterinary bills) and, last but not least, the price paid by our struggling planet.
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