Pulse groups research dog food charge

The USDA has investigated a link between pulses and heart problems in dogs. | Getty Images

Pulse producers, exporters and other pulse industry groups in the United States are hoping to raise US$1 million to shed light on what they consider a bogus link between pet foods that contain pulses and dilated cardiomyaopathy (DCM), a rare heart defect that affects dogs.

The DCM research fund campaign is aimed at uncovering the causes of DCM in dogs and challenging the assumption that pulse crops including lentils and field peas, are causing DCM.

In 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced that it was investigating potential links between pulse-based pet foods and canine DCM.

The investigation continues, but the U.S. pulse crop industry says FDA research suggesting a link between pulse-based diets and canine DCM are unsubstantiated.

The U.S. industry says negative press stemming from the FDA research has caused the North American pulse sector to lose sales of 250,000 tonnes of pulses to pet food manufacturers.

Money raised through the US$1 million DCM research fund will support a $5 million multi-year research project to be conducted by BSM Partners, an American company involved in companion animal research.

Expertise at BSM Partners includes veterinarians with knowledge of clinical nutrition, cardiology, food safety, veterinary medicine and research design, according to a July 2020 news release issued by Oregon-based pulse handler Columbia Grain International.

The Columbia Grain news release says BSM Partners has examined the results of more than 150 studies related to DCM and companion animals.

Their research review did not support a link between pulse-based diets and canine cardiomyopathy. Instead, it uncovered “significant gaps in the literature available,” suggesting the need for further research.

“The FDA has made it difficult for pet owners to share the health values of pulses with their pets without concerns brought about by the FDA’s unsubstantiated claims…” Columbia Grain said it its news release.

Columbia Grain, headquartered in Portland, Ore., is one of the largest pulse producers, processors and exporters in the U.S.

Its Canadian operations include a dry bean handling facility in Winkler, Man.

The company has committed US$25,000 to the DCM research fund campaign, which is backed by the American pulse industry.

In a recent interview with The Western Producer, Columbia Grain’s president and chief executive officer Jeff Van Pevenage, said his company and the American pulse industry questions the FDA’s position.

He said FDA’s announcement is based on unsubstantiated evidence from 515,000 reported cases of canine DCM since 2014.

Consumers responded predictably to the FDA announcement.

“The public didn’t differentiate between correlation and causation and sales of grain-free (pulse-based) pet foods have plummeted as a result of the FDA’s announcement,” said Van Pevenage.

“The North American pulse industry has lost somewhere between 200 and 250,000 metric tonnes of sales to per food formulators since the first FDA announcement in 2018.”

Columbia Grain wants to see deeper science into the DCM issue, he added.

“At this point, there’s really no definitive science supporting the FDA’s position. There actually may be evidence that pulse crops are not the cause of DCM so our interest in more research is to find out the true root cause of the problem and to determine whether it’s from pulses or not,” said Van Pevenage, who feeds his own Boston Terrier a pulse-based diet.

“Columbia Grain’s job, as I see it … is to create markets for our producers and pet food has become a very good market for the pulse industry, both in the United States and Canada, and we’ve seen more and more companies starting to include (pulses)… into their pet food rations,” he said.

The North American pet food market accounts for about 10 percent of pulse crop sales.

Van Pevenage said North American pulse sales into the pet food market — including whole pulses and pulse flours, has increased to about 350,000 to 400,000 tonnes, up from approximately 20,000 tonnes in 2012.

The $5 million BSM Partners research project will include three studies:

  • a comparison of grain-based diets and grain-free diets (including pulse-based formulations) to assess their impacts on the cardiac function of dogs;
  • an examination on canine litter size and its impact on cardiac disease later in life;
  • an exploration into the role that diet history and plasma amino acid concentrations play in the cardiac health of various dog breeds, including Golden Retrievers, a breed predisposed to canine DCM.

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