Pet Food Ingredients
On October 3, 2012

The promise of science for petfood

New research and technologies offer tantalizing glimpses of possible breakthroughs in pet nutrition and sustainability

I confess, I don’t have a strong background in science, but I definitely have immense appreciation and respect for scientific research and breakthroughs, along with the people behind them. So I can’t help but be blown away by some cutting-edge science that’s starting to enter the world of petfood.

For example, an article by Dr. George Burdock provides an overview of nanotechnology and explains the promises—and caveats—for petfood (p. XX). “Nanotechnology is more than the science of small things; it is nearly as profound as the discovery of another previously unknown universe simultaneously inhabiting the same time and space that we do,” he writes. How can you not be excited by that and its potential application for the way we feed ourselves and our pets?

Dr. Burdock stresses there is still much that scientists—not to mention regulators—don’t know about nanoparticle-size substances; no petfood company will be able to use claims like “nano-powered” on its packaging any time soon. But the promise is difficult to ignore.

In a separate  message, Dr. Burdock added these comments: “Nanoparticles are not totally new. They are present naturally in our environment as volcanic dust and ash, smoke from forest fires, clay, viruses and biogenic magnetite (the iron particles in the brains of birds that act as a compass and help them migrate).”

The comments resonated because of a presentation I heard recently at a companion animal summit on sustainability organized by Trouw Nutrition USA. The opening speaker, Dennis DiPietre, PhD, an economist and owner of KnowledgeVentures, delivered a very interesting perspective on how “cleverness and intimacy will save the planet.”

We have to consider whether humans are part of nature, Dr. DiPietre said. If we decide the answer is no, that leads to destructive ideas and conflicts about dealing with it. In other words, we can be intimate with nature or consider humans as a contagion to be isolated. Which side of that equation we fall on determines how we view solutions to problems and where we look for them.

That’s where the cleverness comes in. Dr. DiPietre framed it as a question: “Are we running out of natural resources or are we running out of imagination?” Then he offered illustrations of the latter, such as precision irrigation, used in agriculture, or biomimicry—adopting the “technology” of how non-human nature solves problems. An example is architects using termite mounds in Africa as a framework for developing sustainable buildings.

Perhaps biomimicry or other dynamic, innovative approaches offer ways to find more—and more sustainable—ingredients for humans and animals? (After the fact, when I read Dr. Burdocks’ comments, I also wondered if nanotechnology is a version of biomimicry.)

Such tantalizing glimpses  of scientific advancement appeared regularly during the Trouw summit. Another speaker was Elizabeth Jeffery, professor emeritus of nutritional pharmacology at the University of Illinois, who has started to see how her research on mechanisms in fruits and vegetables (broccoli is her favorite, in more ways than one) and other foods that help prevent cancer and other chronic diseases in humans applies to pets—and vice versa. She was particularly excited, she said, to be part of a research initiative in which several universities, organized by the National Cancer Institute, are using dogs as a comparative model for tumors.

Apparently, dogs and humans have very similar physiological routes to cancer, which could pave the way for breakthroughs in treating and preventing the disease in both (and possibly other) species. That nutrition is a strong component of this research is another promising sign for our industry.

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