The economics of dog food

How does the environmental impact of a dog compare to that of an SUV?  Via Robert Nagle in the MR comments section, here is one article defending the dog. It makes many good points but right now I am especially interested in this passage:

…most dogs DO NOT eat meat and cereals.  With a few exceptions, they eat “meat” and “cereals.”  The “meat,” in particular, tends to be byproducts–things that people in the US simply won’t eat, even in hot dogs.

Does that mean that the cow parts are a "free lunch," environmentally speaking?  Let's say you have a dogless world and the cow organs are thrown away.  Dogs come along and suddenly those organs are sold to dog food companies.  The profit margin on cows increases.  The supply of cows goes up, as more resources are put into raising cows, and that means more cow emissions.  This process continues until the (private) costs of cow production rise, and/or the prices of cow products fall.  In other words, it depends on elasticities but the dog diets do have an environmental impact.

Here is a simple piece on the economics of joint supply.


It's not limited to cows.

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean.

I like the analysis, but there are externalities we're probably missing here. Disregarding the value from the pleasure of owning a pet, there's the increased involvement in animal rights (probably correlated with environmentalism,) the ecological impacts if less dogs were spayed (which ownership promotes,) and I'm a bit skeptical on whether no alternative use could be found for cow offal in a dogless world (cats? fertilizer? carbon-intensive shipping to offal-eating countries?). And given the relative value of the cow to the dog-eaten parts, I doubt that that many more cows are bred on the margin, especially since the "cereals" portion of dog feed is cheaper to manufacturers.

One of the Marshall Jevons economics murder mysteries (A Deadly Indifference) turned on an understanding of joint supply price movements.

Although dog foods contain all kinds of protein sources, I believe that most use chicken meal as their primary source. Also, the market is flooded with "organic" and "natural" pet foods that use only human grade quality products. I would assume that those most concerned about the environment likely use the organic or natural products.

What I find quite interesting (also very annoying) is that there seems to be little in the way of scientific research to support the claims that natural or organic dog food contains all the proper nutrients for a dog, let alone whether such food is better than regular food.

Guilt and shame are such clumsy signals of resource costs compared the market.

A carbon tax, including a tax on cows, would relay the environmental costs proportionately to dog food, SUVs, etc. Joint production would be automatically incorporated into the calculation, and innovations in production and consumption would be encouraged in proportion to their benefit. Consumers could then make environmentally-responsible choices just by comparing the price of each good vs. the benefits they personally enjoyed from consuming it. They wouldn't have to keep up with simplistic analyses of dogs vs. SUVs.

Serious environmentalists should redirect their efforts from ad hoc shaming of particular consumption choices toward a systematic effort to institute pigouvian taxes.

Connoisseurs of Chinese cuisine know that "dog food" isn't as good as "food dog", aka 香肉.

The Economypedia article Tyler links to reads like a bad translation from a piece that was badly written even in the original language.

Hey... I said that. :P

It seems the largest consideration would be what pet owners would spend their money on otherwise. Travel tends to have a very high carbon footprint.

There are beyond millions of starving human beings that would happily eat what supposedly "only dogs" would.


If anything this question exposes the absurdity of the question over "carbon footprints." We might as well argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.


Alex at 5:52 makes the best point in the entire thread.

I find it disgusting that I can't buy beef liver, tongue, kidney, or heart at the supermarket, unless it's ground up in dog food.
Fortunately, I can get them from the dirty hippie farmers next door.
Considering what US meat animals are fed with, I probably wouldn't want to eat their organs anyway, eh?

... sorry, meant to say my "85 pound dog" - is healthy on a plant based diet...

There is only so far you can go with byproducts for dogs because there are still other costs & materials involved that makes it less of an environmental purpose.

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