Adventures in Pet Food

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry, shares her insights and opinions on all things pet food, addressing market trends as well as news and developments in pet nutrition, food safety and other hot topics for the industry.
Pet Food Ingredients

Ingredient scarcity calls for innovative solutions

After one of the worst droughts in US history this past summer, along with hot, dry weather in other parts of the world, it's no surprise that projections for crop supplies are continuing to decline. According to BloombergBusinessweek, a new report from the International Grains Council (IGC) projects global corn production for the 2012-2013 harvest year to come in at 833 million metric tons, down from August's prediction of 838 million metric tons and 2011-2012's actual crop of 875 million metric tons.


The latest decline is attributed to a drop in corn production in the European Union, reports, which is now expected to produce 55 million metric tons of corn, rather than 59.9 milllion metric tons as predicted in August. As in the US, hot and dry weather in Europe was to blame, leading to damaged crops and contributing to the continual shrinking of the global harvest (forecast in July to be a record 917 million metric tons).


And speaking of the US, the US Department of Agriculture reported corn supplies at 988 million bushels as of September 1—reducing stockpiles 12% from the 1.128 billion bushels at the same point in 2011 and also short of the 1.145 billion bushels originally predicted. All these supply decreases have pushed corn prices up 49% since mid-June on the Chicago Board of Trade, reaching a record US$8.49 per bushel on August 10. Corn futures for December rose to US$7.56 per bushel, the highest in three months.


World wheat production is also suffering from dry weather, with IGC forecasting it now to 657 million metric tons, down from 662 million metric tons in August. That also pushed wheat futures up 5.5% to US$9.03 per bushel, the largest increase since late June.


Soybeans offer the only bright spot, with Brazil's crop for 2012-2013 projected up from an already record estimate of 78.1 million metric tons to now 79.08 million metric tons, according to Celeres. In concert, global production of soybeans could reach 256 million metric tons this season, up 8% from 2011-2012. Soybean November futures increased 1.9% to US$16.01 per bushel, though actual prices fell 8.9% in September.


For most crops, the combination of declining supplies and rising prices does not bode well for petfood ingredients. Experts in our industry believe we need to be looking far and wide for alternative ingredients and be truly innovative in where we look and what we consider. For ideas and inspiration, you might want to check out the work of Dennis DiPietre, PhD, an economist and owner of KnowledgeVentures LLC. (His company doesn't seem to have a website, but Google his name and you can find some of this writings.)


I recently heard Dr. DiPietre speak on how “cleverness and intimacy will save the planet” at a companion animal summit on sustainability organized by Trouw Nutrition USA. In his view, sustainability really comes out of economics, arising from scarcity and the fact that global resources are finite, demands are limitless, and consequently, trade-offs are necessary. So, if properly understood and applied, the economy and ecology should never be in conflict; when they are, it’s usually because of politicization or misunderstanding (or both) of the issues.


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; believe humans have dominion over nature or are its stewards; consider ourselves masters of animals or their companions. Which sides of those equations 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 offers a way to find more—and more sustainable—ingredients for humans and animals? Or we can surely come up with other dynamic, innovative approaches; as Dr. DiPietre pointed out, over history humans all over the word have found ways to get protein in their diet without meat. Think pasta fagiole in Italy, tortillas and beans in parts of Central and South America, hummus and flatbread in the Middle East or rice and tofu in Asia.

One of my favorite quotes from his presentation was this: "A weed is a plant that's not where a human wants it." When you look at the world that way, innovative ideas for finding new ingredients are bound to follow. 

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