Pulse crops transform dog food industry

Pulse crops transform dog food industry

January 4, 2016
The University of Saskatchewan’s Lynn Weber is studying the benefits of peas, lentils and fava beans to the health of our canine friends

Consumer awareness of healthy eating is increasingly spilling over into our pets’ food dishes and researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) have helped one Canadian company take advantage of the trend. The work is also helping to open up new markets for Saskatchewan pulses — including things like peas, lentils and fava beans — worth $3 billion in Canadian exports last year alone. Lynn Weber, a professor in veterinary medicine at the university, and her team develop formulations for healthier and tastier pulse-based dog food including the Pulsar, Legacy and Amicus lines of Saskatchewan-based Horizon Pet Nutrition. Since 2007, these pulse-based lines have accounted for almost $20 million in sales and they are the fastest growing products for the company, which employs 30 people.

There are three main consumer concerns about pet food that Weber and her team are working to address: glycemic index rating, wheat presence and genetic modification. So far, the team’s research has shown that dog food made from pulses beats out conventional dog food on all three aspects. It has a low glycemic rating, meaning it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels after consumption compared to other carbohydrates, and since it isn’t made out of wheat, and pulses aren’t genetically modified, consumers’ preferences are met. In addition, using ultrasound equipment funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the team has found that beagles fed a pulse-based diet have better cardiovascular health than those fed conventional grain-based foods.

Weber’s first glycemic index study on pea-based dog food, which was supported by the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and ended in 2012, attracted the attention of Alliance Grain Traders, one of the largest pulse suppliers in the world. It asked Weber and her team to test the glycemic rating of fava beans and lentils as well, proving that they too are a healthier alternative carbohydrate for use in human and pet food. According to Horizon, Weber’s work was the catalyst for a universal shift in the pet food market away from grain-based products towards pulse-based ones. It has helped farmers in Saskatchewan — the province produces most of the world’s pulse crops — find new and economical uses for their crops. The research has also provided new insight to the veterinary community to keep man’s best friend healthy.

Originally posted March 2015