The Pet Food Industry Is Rotten. It's Time for Entrepreneurs to Step Up.

By investing in biotechnology for pet food, we as entrepreneurs and business leaders can actually force the industry to change.

learn more about Ryan Bethencourt

By Ryan Bethencourt

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Do you know the No. 1 food allergen for dogs and cats? The answer may surprise most animal lovers.

It's beef. And the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 allergens? Chicken, eggs and milk — yup, we're feeding our pets animal proteins that they're allergic to because the animal agriculture industry is banking on keeping us in the dark.

But by investing in biotech for pet food, we can actually force the industry to change. Investors are already reaping the rewards of the same biotech that Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat use to make plant-based and cell-based proteins for humans. It's time to do the same with vegan pet food industry.

Related: The Future of Food: How Biotech Will Save Us All

The pet food industry is rotten

And barely anyone is talking about it.

A quarter of the meat we produce in this country goes to pets, and when you look at the amount of pollution that these factory farms create, the amount of land usage, the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest — all just to grow crops to feed these animals — it's a net negative.

Cleaning up how we produce food and protein starts with reducing the usage of animal agriculture and replacing it with more efficient plant-based and cell-based protein products, whether we're talking about land usage, water usage, energy usage or CO2 production.

Nearly five years ago, I looked at what companies like Perfect Day and the Every Company were doing with plant-based and cell-based products for human food products. People were really starting to get excited about it — but I didn't see anyone really pushing the envelope in terms of new, healthier products for our pets.

I asked myself, "Who would disrupt the pet food industry by transforming it with biotechnology?"

By creating plant-based and cell-based pet food with biotech, we can not only transform pet food to be healthier, sustainable and more cruelty-free, but we can force the industry to change itself. That's my personal mission, and one I hope other business leaders will join me on.

Related: Biotech Startups Pounce on Cultured Pet Food

But aren't dogs carnivores?

Let's get this out of the way: Dogs are omnivores. Dogs co-evolved with humans to eat bread and foods rich in carbohydrates. Dogs actually produce more amylase enzymes (which help carbohydrate metabolism) than their wolf forefathers. And, funnily enough, all the way down at the bottom of a dog's allergen list, are carbohydrates like wheat and corn.

Is plant-based dog food really healthier?

In short, yes. If you put science first when it comes to your dog's biology, taking into account allergies and general health, it's mind-blowing.

A recent study of more than 2,500 dogs showed that those on a well-balanced, plant-based diet exhibited fewer signs of poor health than dogs on a standard, meat-based kibble. It was the largest study of its kind, and the results are game-changer for the pet food industry.

For business leaders, this means a huge opportunity that's backed by science to force change upon a rotten industry. Biotech is having a moment that's rich with potential, but somehow investors are only focused on using it for human food — not the potential of transforming the entire pet food industry with biotech.

Related: Pet Food Industry Witnesses a Gradual Development with Changing Trends

All that said, using biotech to create sustainable pet food needs to be done with care. It has to be nutritionally complete, with the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and particularly of amino acids, in order for dogs to survive and thrive on a vegan diet for their entire lives.

Investors should know that it's extremely difficult to create nutritionally complete dog food at home — which means homemade vegan dog food is out, and vegan pet food carefully created with biotech is in.

Not all dog food is created equally. Do you see where I'm going with this?

We can create an intersection where scientists and entrepreneurs can work together (just as I did working with veterinarians, scientists and nutritionists developing plant-based proteins for a diet that meets the AAFCO requirements) to transform the pet food industry with vegan diets that are nutritionally complete.

A well-rounded plant-based diet is not only healthy, but it can help with your dog's allergies and GI issues relief. Have you ever seen dogs with terrible skin allergies, where they're itching red and raw skin?

Related: The Future Is...Fungi?: This Biotech Company Transforms Mushrooms Into Luxury Materials Used by Hermès

I know veterinarians who have switched dogs that are experiencing these symptoms to a plant-based diet as a final test to see if they can actually help these animals. And, based on my experience working the industry with pet parents and veterinarians alike, it very often works.

So the learning is — first and foremost — that disrupting the pet food industry with plant-based and cell-based proteins is going to help save our environment. Not only that, but we know there's a market that needs plant-based pet food for dogs with allergies. And for pet owners who want the healthiest food for their dog, it's a plant-based diet.

The market potential for pet food fueled by biotechnology is massive. I believe that the more that join this mission, the better. I hope other entrepreneurs can look at this space and decide they want to join. So, who's with me?

Ryan Bethencourt

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CEO of Wild Earth

Ryan Bethencourt is a scientist, entrepreneur, biohacker and co-founder of Wild Earth, the cruelty-free dog food company. He has a masters in bioscience enterprise (MBE) from Cambridge University.

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