2018 Farm Bill Can Benefit Pet Diets & Reduce Obesity

We have often said that if you raise a crop or put food in your mouth, the Farm Bill that is debated and reauthorized by Congress every five years or so, impacts you.  It also can benefit our furry friends, dog and cats in over 107.3 million U.S. households (APPA, National Pet Owners Survey Statistics: Pet Ownership 2017-18).

The Challenge

According to Nationwide, who is the largest provider of pet health insurance in the U.S. with over 630,000 insured pets, “pet obesity is on the rise for the seventh straight year. Nationwide members filed more than 1.4 million pet insurance claims in 2016, of which 20 percent were for conditions and diseases related to pet obesity- equaling a sum of more than $62 million in veterinary expenses. The boost in total obesity-related claims signifies a 24 percent growth over the last four years.

Similar to humans, excessive body fat increases the risk of preventable health issues and may shorten the life expectancy of dogs and cats. The top 10 dog and cat obesity-related conditions. Below are the results:

Most Common Dog Obesity-Related Conditions

  1. Arthritis
  2. Bladder/Urinary Tract Disease
  3. Liver Disease
  4. Low Thyroid Hormone
  5. Torn Knee Ligaments
  6. Diabetes
  7. Diseased Disc in the Spine
  8. Chronic Kidney Disease
  9. Heart Failure
  10. High Blood Pressure

Most Common Cat Obesity-Related Conditions

  1. Bladder/Urinary Tract Disease
  2. Chronic Kidney Disease
  3. Diabetes
  4. Asthma
  5. Liver Disease
  6. Arthritis
  7. High Blood Pressure
  8. Heart Failure
  9. Gall Bladder Disorder
  10. Immobility of Spine

The Solution

Pet owners are continually seeking ways to improve the health of their pets.  Without question, this demand has driven multiple advances in companion animal nutrition.  With pet obesity challenges on the rise, dietary fiber has gained significant interest in the pet food industry.

Ground Miscanthus.

The most common sources of fiber ingredients in pet foods are from beet pulp, bran, corn and corn by-products, fruit fibers, peanut, rice and soybean hulls, and vegetables.  Cellulose, made from wood is also a source of insoluble fiber in pet foods.  However, cellulose is an expensive ingredient relative to nutritional benefit and it has led the pet food industry to seek an alternative to chemically-treated, wood-based powdered cellulose.

In recent years Miscanthus giganteus, a C4 perennial crop has been proven as an ideal dietary fiber in pet foods.  Miscanthus is a “Ground grass” obtained by drying and grinding grass which has been cut before formation of the seed.  It is a virgin, non-wood cellulose fiber that has no added colors, no artificial flavors, no preservatives and can improve pets’ health and is competitively priced for pet food manufacturers.

In a study finalized August 2016 by Kansas State University’s Department of Grain Science and Industry, researchers determined the impact on processing and dietary utilization of Miscanthus grass in chick, dog and cat diets. They concluded, “Miscanthus grass appears to be a suitable replacement for cellulose in the dog and cat diet, it was well accepted by the animals, and resulted in well-formed stools closer to ideal for the pet owner.”

How the Farm Bill Can Help

The 2018 Farm Bill can help by

  1. Developing a crop insurance program for Miscanthus.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) uses an economic impact scale to approach new insurance products.  RMA research and development in Kansas City previously reviewed biomass crops for insurance.
  2. Similar to the current Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) for which Miscanthus is already an eligible crop but for energy production-only, develop a program providing assistance to Miscanthus growers during the two-year period needed to establish the crop.  New production of Miscanthus is started by planting a rhizome.  It typically requires two years and one cutting to reach established growth. The first harvest occurs in the third year after planting the rhizome.  That means that Miscanthus planted in 2019 will not be harvested until 2022.  It is challenging to encourage producers to grow Miscanthus when it requires three years before the first harvest begins to generate income for their farming operations.

Miscanthus is a conservation-friendly crop because it grows efficiently on modest soils and in temperate regions.  Farmers use low nutrient inputs and there is minimal nutrient removal. The nutrients move back into the soil prior to harvest. This allows the crop to use those nutrients the following year for growth. Miscanthus minimizes soil erosion and sequesters a lot of carbon in the soil.

Without question dietary fiber in pet food will continue to be a significant demand factor in the $24 billion annual U.S. market for pet foods as consumers seek healthy, natural, organic, fortified, functional, weight control, life stage, and gourmet alternatives.  Miscanthus is proving to be a viable alternative to meet this demand and farmers should be positioned to take advantage of this market.

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