Questions & Ethics: Keeping the Feed and Supplement Industry Honest

All Articles Canine Health Equine Health Formulator's Corner Nutrition & Feeding

At BioStar, we are asked lots of questions by horse and dog owners.   It’s an important part of working for BioStar to welcome the opportunity to answer questions…and if we don’t know the answer right away, we will find out.

My job as a formulator requires asking lots and lots of my own questions when we evaluate a new supplier or when researching a new ingredient.  Before I even bring an ingredient in for testing, I need to know where it is grown, how it is grown, and what certifications it carries (non-GMO, or organic, or pesticide/herbicide free).  I need to see the COA (certificate of analysis), which not only includes the basic protein/fat/fiber/sugar content but also complete profiles for amino acids and macro/micro-minerals, including the heavy metals that could be toxic such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium.  Some producers don’t test for the heavy metals, and so we have to turn them down as a supplier for BioStar.

With ingredients like oils, I need to know how they are processed (high-heat solvent extraction, or cold-pressed, or expeller-pressed).  BioStar will not use any oils that are produced by high-heat solvent extraction or have been expeller-pressed.  Solvent-extracted oils and expeller-pressed oils are brought to temperatures so high that many of the nutrients in the oil are denatured in the process.

I am also a consumer, and I know that not every supplement and feed company has the same standards for raw material that BioStar has.  Sometimes the label will give an indication of what specific ingredients a company uses.  But sometimes I have to call a company to get more information, and sometimes I’m quite shocked by a company’s resistance to being transparent.

Organic and non-GMO
Some companies make non-GMO claims, but when pressed for certification, can’t provide it.  BioStar has been through non-GMO certification, which is a lengthy process and requires that every single ingredient be traceable from farm to table.  An uncertified “non-GMO” crop could have been contaminated in the field by a neighboring farmer’s GMO soy whose pollen blew on the wind, or been contaminated in the mills, or during shipping.  That’s why certification is so important: it holds everyone in the non-GMO food chain accountable every step of the way.

Some companies make non-GMO claims about foods that have, historically, never been genetically modified. So, while true in one sense, the claims are also misleading.

“Organic” is not just a marketing term, but reflects a real difference in how food is grown versus conventional and non-GMO methods.  Organic certification ensures that no glyphosate (Roundup), 2,4-D or dicamba herbicide has been used, as well as no genetically modified organisms or seeds.  Farming for organic certification means improving soil health by increasing richness of soil microbiota and micronutrients.  Methods of achieving this include crop rotation, cover-cropping, reduced tillage, increased plant biodiversity, and application of compost.

With conventional and (non-organic) non-GMO farming, there are no requirements for soil health; the seeds can still be grown with chemical fertilizers.  Glyphosate, 2,4-D, and dicamba can be used, as well as other herbicides and pesticides.

Note that “non-GMO” does not mean “glyphosate-free”.

Full disclosure of ingredients
I am often asked by customers about various commercial feeds and supplements made by other companies.  I really respect supplement and feed companies that include their ingredients along with the guaranteed analysis on their websites.  I may not personally agree with their ingredient choices, but they aren’t just making marketing claims with a basic guaranteed analysis without showing the consumer exactly what is in their products.  Whether it’s for a horse, human, or pet, if a company isn’t willing to list their ingredients on their website, I won’t buy from them.

Asking questions is performing due diligence
I don’t think we consumers ask enough questions of the companies we buy from.  I think we all too easily accept marketing claims, and I am as guilty of this as anyone.  I can get sucked into a marketing claim faster than lint into a vacuum cleaner.

But as consumers, it is important to ask questions of the companies we buy from.  One customer told me recently that her hay farmer said he was getting tired of being asked about the nutritional quality of his hay. He was now getting his hay analyzed, so he could just text or email the results to his customers.  Yeah!

Not too long ago, a company contacted me about their plant-based digestive enzymes. There was plenty of marketing in their email and on their website showing really high enzymatic activity, so I asked for a COA.  After the certificate arrived, I still needed more information so I called the company. It took getting through the sales department and finally to the technical/science department to find out what I needed to know: these plant enzymes were derived from soy, and not organic soy… absolutely unacceptable for BioStar.

Whole-fruit powders
Commonly found in whole-food supplements for humans, fruit powders are now being incorporated into more equine and canine supplements.  While whole-fruit powders do add flavor, they also supply important nutritional components — fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants that fruit flavorings do not.  Flavorings are primarily created by several big fragrance companies in France, and 99% of them are pure chemical concoctions.  Solvents, emulsifiers, flavor modifiers and preservatives can make up 80% of the mixture.  Even “natural flavors” does not mean only one flavor source; it can have anywhere from 50 to 200 ingredients.

There are two basic ways to preserve fruits for supplements and feed: drum-drying and freeze-drying.  Spray-drying is not commonly used with fruits and vegetables; that’s a process mostly used for molasses, rice protein, honey, etc.

Drum-drying is generally done at low temperatures but requires an additive, maltodextrin, which is a stabilizer/sweetener/thickener  made from corn, wheat, tapioca, potatoes, or rice.  In the US it is most commonly obtained from GMO corn.  Maltodextrin is easily digestible and can be absorbed as rapidly as glucose.  Drum-dried fruits can contain 1-5% maltodextrin.

Freeze-drying takes frozen fruits or vegetables and dehydrates them using a refrigerated vacuum system.  No additives are required.  The cell structures remain intact, as does the color, shape, nutritional components and flavor.  Freeze-drying is considered the gold standard for retaining the nutritional values of the fruits or vegetables.  It is also significantly more expensive.

Companies are not required to label fruit and vegetable powders with the process by which they were created.  So, without contacting the company, the consumer has no idea which form of fruit powder is in a supplement.

BioStar only uses freeze-dried fruit and vegetable powders.

My personal rule of thumb
It is a bit of a pain, but not accepting label claims on faith is becoming more and more important.  My basic rule of thumb is: earn my trust.  And by that I mean transparency.  If I have to dig like a dog to get answers, it’s probably not a company I will do business with.

Plenty of companies in our industry may not use the same quality ingredients that BioStar does, but I still have great respect for them when they’re honest about it, as this speaks to their basic ethics.

We consumers deserve choices…and honest answers.


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