Here we go again: Our pet food industry, once again in its very own mysterious way, is thinking about yet another way to make more money on already very much compromised mass produced commercial pet food. This time, at least to me, just the sound of it is scary.
The president of the Pet Food Industry officially has made it clear that he thinks it is, as Susan Thixton called it “ time for left over ingredients from the processing of ethanol to be utilized in pet food. Being more concerned with rising costs of grain products instead of quality nutrition, Greg Aldrich, PhD feels it is ´time´ pet food manufacturers use spent-fermentation leftovers. He feels it will be well received if it’s pitched to pet owners as a ´green´ ingredient. Wonder if it will make pet’s feel “green”? As if the pet food industry does not have enough problems, now the president of The Pet Food Industry is encouraging dog food and cat food manufacturers to consider using leftovers from ethanol processing. Geez.” “The production of ethanol in the past has meant many things to the pet food industry, much of which hasn't been pleasant because of the pressure it has placed on grain supplies. Okay, so a cheap dollar, high fuel costs and a few natural disasters have had their impact as well. But, maybe there is some redemption for ethanol production that pet food companies have overlooked these last few years. Redemption in the way of an ingredient - specifically the protein-enriched, spent-fermentation co-product known as distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS). Currently, only a few of the "value brands" of pet food are brave enough to incorporate DDGS in their formulas. Considering consumers generally have a favorable view of "green" ethanol and pet food companies have a need to recapture some lost margin encountered with rising commodity prices, it may be time for the broader industry to explore its use.”
According to the Pet Food Industry’s officials, availability is not an issue. Dr. Greg Aldrich is president of Pet Food & Ingredient Technology, Inc., which facilitates innovations in foods and ingredients for companion animal, writes on the organization’s website:
The basic steps for today's ethanol production follow the same steps as that of distilled spirits: Grain is milled and fermented with yeast, the alcohol is removed by distillation and the remaining wet residue is fed directly to livestock (predominantly cattle) or dried for use as an ingredient in the feed industry.
With DDGS, a dry milling process is used rather than a wet milling process that results in corn gluten feed or meal. Both types of processing are deployed for ethanol production, but the dry milling that results in the production of DDGS is more efficient, less capital intensive and subsequently more popular.
This means availability is not an issue. Last year, 2.3 billion bushels of grain were used in the production of ethanol with nearly one-third of the starting biomass recovered as distillers grains. In other words, over 3.5 million metric tons of DDGS was produced.
What do we know about DDGS? As it turns out, we know quite a bit about its nutrient composition, but only a smattering about its application in pet food. Regarding nutrient composition, the theme of the day is variability. Most reference texts place protein concentration at around 27% or more. Fat, fiber and ash are also concentrated as the starch is fermented off (9.0%, 8.5%, and 4.7%, respectively; NRC, 2006). The proximate composition varies between seasons and among producers with no established industry or regulatory standard nutrient composition.
Adding to this variability, not all DDGS come exclusively from corn. Other feed grains can be and are used in the production of DDGS, and the net result will be an ingredient that is somewhat reflective of the parent material. For that reason, the "predominating grain shall be declared as the first word in the name" on labels, according to the AAFCO 2006 Official Publication.
The amino acid profile differs little from that of the native grain, and the yeast fraction can contribute nearly half the amino acids. The fiber fraction is fermentable and a rich source of hemicellulose. The mineral composition is also variable with sodium content reported to fluctuate the greatest.
Work to evaluate this ingredient in pet food began nearly 50 years ago when distillers' grains were derived from the beverage and solvent industry. Since today only a small percentage of the overall DDGS supply is derived from this source, the research that was started in the late 1950s and continuing through to the 1980s doesn't completely apply. It does, however, give us some direction.
To summarize this battery of studies, the inclusion of DDGS at up to 30% of dog diets was reported to be acceptable; but, digestibility, stool consistency and palatability were measurably diminished. At intermediate levels of 9 to 16% of the diet, dry matter and energy digestibility were reported to decline 2 to 5 percentage points with an increase in stool volume. Including DDGS in diets at less than 8% did not affect dry matter or energy digestibility, alter nitrogen retention, hamper puppy performance or affect gestation or lactation. Unfortunately, no studies have been found that evaluated DDGS in cat foods.
More recent evaluations indicate that the protein quality of DDGS is superior to corn gluten meal; but this was due to a better amino acid profile rather than better digestibility. Protein utilization of DDGS, especially the digestibility of the essential amino acid lysine, is sensitive to heat damage during the drying process. This may be seen as a darkening or browning and can be a rough "eyeball" check for quality and process consistency.
DDGS are seldom, if ever, found in wet pet foods or treats, but in extruded diets may be added at 5 to 12% of the formula. At these levels, the ingredient won't have an impact on extrusion or kibble appearance versus corn or other grains as it relates to expansion or cell structure.
However, if higher inclusion levels displace grains and protein meals like soy or corn gluten meal, expansion and functionality may be compromised due to lower starch content and a decline in functional proteins. Further, the fiber fraction of DDGS may require a fine grind to prevent the kibble from having a "fuzzy" surface.
One drawback to DDGS is the potential to concentrate mycotoxins, especially given that fermentation and distilling do not destroy these mold metabolites. Nor is the ethanol industry obligated to operate under the same restrictions as the food and feed industries. In one extension report from South Dakota State University, mycotoxin concentrations for 2000 through 2007 were reported to be measurable in each testing year. Aflatoxin averaged 2.12 ppb (+/- 2.49), and vomitoxin averaged 3.62 ppm (+/- 4.12).
To put this in context, the USDA action levels for aflatoxin are 20 ppb. Vomitoxin was reported to affect palatability at levels greater than 4.5 to 7.7 ppm and cause vomiting and diarrhea at 8 to 10 ppm for dogs and cats, respectively. So, while reported levels were below these thresholds, it points to the need for vigorous monitoring efforts.
All together it sounds to me as if I am having a bad dream. I hope that this is all what it is and the idea doesn’t materialize further. I almost feel like sounding like Susant Thixton who commented on Dr. Aldrich’s explanations and “deep thoughts”:
“He” (Aldrich) “feels it will be well received if it´s pitched to pet owners as a ´green´ ingredient. Wonder if it will make pet´s feel ´green´? Allow me to interpret…The production of ethanol has raised the cost of otherwise cheap grains commonly used as protein in pet food. Ah, but I discovered something that we might have overlooked…and it´s even cheaper! After they process grain for ethanol, the left over garbage still analyzes as protein goodie for us! Jump on this gang, before the price goes up!”Her interpretation of Aldrich’s research: “Using up to 30% of this cheap @#$% is fine, even though it won´t provide much nutrition and will probably give the pet the runs (and big time gas!).”On Aldich’s comments about the drawbacks she says: “There is one problem, and it´s big… DDGS (left-overs from ethanol production) are extremely prone to a deadly mold that is known to be a killer of pets. Extensive research has shown it´s very risky. But remember, it´s cheap so it´s probably worth the risk.”
And finally she concludes: “As if the above isn´t bad enough…Dr. Aldrich feels petsumers will welcome this change: "Considering consumers generally have a favorable view of "green" ethanol…" Well Dr. Aldrich, we might not all have a PhD behind our name, but we certainly are not stupid! ´Green´ pet food is NOT huge piles left in the backyard or litter box! AAFCO currently name these types of products "Distillers Grains", "Distillers Dried Grain Solubles", "Wet Grains", and more. We can only guess that if this becomes a popular ingredient, AAFCO will graciously accommodate The Pet Food Industry with a nice, safe sounding ingredient name. Something like "Protein-rich Solubles" – after all…"left-over @#$% from the processing of ethanol" on a pet food label probably won´t sell much pet food. By the way, Dr. Aldrich reports there is no shortage of DDGS – last year there was over 3.5 million metric tons produced. Instead of pet food, the perfect place for this left-over @#$% to go is to produce BioFuel. Why not take the left over ingredients from producing ethanol and turn it into even more energy? Perhaps that makes too much sense.”
Way to go, Susan. I am with you all the way on this. And what I really wonder is if Dr. Aldrich would feed that stuff to his own dogs. Maybe I am going to e-mail him to find out. Plus it amazes me with what creativity these people think when it comes to their marketing efforts. Like, well, we know it’s not the greatest, but right now labeling it “green” will do the trick, because that’s right now in.