Algae offers green way to boost nutritional value of pet and people foods

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LEXINGTON, KY. -- Current and future trends in food for pets and people were among topics addressed at the 30th Alltech Annual International Symposium May 18-21 in Lexington, Ky. The theme of the conference was "What If?" suggesting anything is possible through innovation and technology. Over 2,000 scientists, agriculturists, economists, nutritionists and others interested in food science from 59 countries attended.

Algae was likely the word most often mentioned throughout the conference, which Alltech does have a bias to support. The multi-national company, dedicated to nutritional innovation, now has a facility in Kentucky producing algae to boost the health of people and pets.

Alltech may not be a household name, but the company is a major player helping farmers feed the world. They offer solutions to raise healthy animals while protecting the environment and making our food more nutritious.

Alltech is committed to using algae to supplement omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in food for pets and people, as traditional sources of these important nutrients could ultimately dry up.

Many fish are rich in two forms of omega-3 fatty acids, called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Growing evidence shows that these two forms are particularly important for lowering inflammation, enhancing eye and brain health (particularly in young, developing children) and protecting against heart disease.

While pets aren't prone to all the same heart diseases as people, limited studies have also documented the value of these fatty acids for pets, which support everything from glossy coats to faster learning puppies.

Fatty acids come from both wild and farm-raised fish. The problem is that wild varieties are being over-fished, even disappearing, pushing up costs as a result. Farm-raised fish aren't perfect sources, either. They don't have nearly as much of those golden fatty acids as wild fish, and may contain antibiotics and growth hormones.

"We realized algae has a high amount of DHA, which is extremely beneficial to people and pets," says Juan Gomez-Bassauri, global director Companion Animal Business at Alltech. He points out that since the earth's population may exceed 10 billion in 50 years, "Sustainability (of fish) is an issue; (adding algae to food) is a creative and innovative approach."

Dr. Patrick Wall, a professor of public health at the University College Dublin, and Chair of the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency Advisory Group agrees. A speaker at the symposium, Wall explains that "By raising algae, we've cut out the middle man, or the middle-fish; our idea is to feed algae to the farm-fish."

It's likely algae could be added directly to pet food with more ease than putting it in food for human consumption.

"On a daily basis, most pets eat a more well-balanced diet than most of us do, since each meal is complete and balanced for that pet's life stage," says Wall. "People may be concerned about not getting optimal balance in their diet; that's why we take supplements. Many of those same supplements are already found in pet foods."

Indeed, many pet food manufacturers already supplement diets with Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. It seems that adding algae to pet food would be easy to do and less expensive than continuing to use other sources of fatty acids. Alternatively, the algae could be directly added to the feed of food production animals.

Alltech already sells DHA-enriched eggs. Chickens are fed algae. As a result, people or pets consuming those eggs (in their food) receive lots of healthy DHA. The idea made perfect sense to several nutritionists attending the conference, including Dr. Jennifer Adolphe, senior nutritionist at Petcurean Pet Nutrition, Cholliwack, British Columbia

"There's a fine line between marketing and what's real, but it seems using algae is perfectly logical, Adolphe says. "It (also) is an all natural solution." But she warns consumers to be cautious, in general, when seeing the words "all natural" on packaging.

"After all, arsenic is all natural and that's not something you want your pet to eat," she notes.

"There's no question as the population of the planet grows, new strategies will be required for our own food and pet food," Gomez-Bassauri says.

NEXT WEEK, I'll have more about pet food safety, particularly in regard to products imported from China, and a conversation about the many recent pet food recalls.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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