By Victoria Weldon

Pet lovers are being urged to consider the environmental cost of feeding their animals as research reveals the impact pet food production has on climate change.

A study by the University of Edinburgh shows that the industry produces the equivalent of up to one sixth of the CO2 emissions of the global aviation industry and emits more greenhouse gases each year than countries such as Mozambique and the Philippines.

An area double the size of the UK is also used to produce dry pet food for cats and dogs each year, according to researchers.

The Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) said the industry is “very mindful” of reducing its environmental impact where possible and is already taking steps to address the issue.

However, the scientists say rising demand for pet food – driven by an increase in pet ownership around the world – should be factored into initiatives aimed at improving sustainability of the global food system.

Dr Peter Alexander, of the university’s School of GeoSciences and Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security, who led the first-of-its-kind study, said: “Even accounting for the use of by-products in pet foods, the feeding of companion animals plays a role in environmental change.

“This is a topic that has been previously overlooked, but we have shown that pets and how they are fed should be considered alongside other actions to reduce climate change and biodiversity loss.

“Environmental sustainability is relevant to most aspects of our lives and choosing a pet has impacts that should be considered.

“This is particularly true as pet ownership is a long term commitment.”

The research team analysed data on the main ingredients in more than 280 types of dry pet food available in the US and Europe - regions which account for two thirds of global sales.

They found that around half of dry food is made up of crop plants – such as maize, rice or wheat – with the rest consisting of various animal or fish products. Data on the environmental impacts of producing the ingredients was then analysed.

The Scientists found that around 49 million hectares of agricultural land – roughly twice the size of the UK – are used annually to make dry food for cats and dogs, which accounts for 95 per cent of pet food sales.

Annual greenhouse gas emissions were found to be 106 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Dr Alexander said the full environmental impact of the industry will be even more significant as the study only looked at dry pet food production.

He urged pet lovers to consider taking on smaller, or fewer, animals in a bid to help tackle the issue.

He added: “Just like with human food, different diets have different environmental burdens, so reducing the amount of meats in pet diets can help substantially.

“Clearly nutritional adequacy still needs to be considered to ensure there aren’t adverse health outcomes for the pet.”

A spokeswoman for the PFMA said: “The pet food industry is very mindful of the role it plays in the responsible use of resources in pet food production, including minimising, wherever possible, its environmental impact.

“The pet food industry uses surplus products from the human food chain, ingredients the food industry tends not to use for different reasons. Pet food manufacturers add value to these materials by using them in the production of pet food, thereby, reducing the impact on food waste, the availability of commodities and minimising the carbon footprint of producing foods specifically for use in pet food.

“In terms of measuring the carbon footprint of pet food production, this process is well under way. The European pet food industry, including the UK, are part of the European Commission’s initiative to develop a harmonised method to monitor and report the environmental performance of pet food products.

“The pet food industry is proud of the steps it has already taken in reducing waste in the food chain and minimising its overall impact on the environment.”