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Pet Food From Wood: A ‘Novel Protein Source’

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

pet food from wood

Story at-a-glance -

  • Researchers used a fermentation process to turn wood into a product known as SylPro, for use as a replacement for plant protein
  • The product was first tested in aquaculture and is now poised to enter the pet food and livestock feed industries
  • The product is made using a patented process with the help of torula yeast (Cyberlindnera jadinii), a specific variety that feeds on wood
  • Torula yeast is described as a sustainable protein source, and the wood it digests is renewable, plentiful and easily acquired from existing supply chains that generate an abundance of residue material
  • SylPro is also being explored as an alternative protein source for humans, especially regarding statistics from the UN contending that by 2050, 9 to 11 billion people will be vying for the world’s available protein
  • This new protein source may be appropriate for some species of animals, including fish, but it pales in comparison to dogs’ and cats’ ancestral protein sources and no studies have been conducted to assure the long-term nutritional adequacy of this novel plant-based protein for carnivores

As technology continues to influence every part of modern life, one of the many benefits includes concepts for new and innovative food sources, including those for pets and livestock. One of the latest comes from the timber industry, touted as a new high-protein food product made from scrap wood.

The product is produced by Arbiom, a company based in Durham, North Carolina, with offices in Paris, France. Arbiom describes itself as an “agricultural-biotechnology company developing bioprocessing technology to convert wood into food,”1 and the product is made using a patented process with the help of torula yeast (Cyberlindnera jadinii), a specific variety said to digest wood. 

Food Ingredients First, which provides food industry news, statistics, trends and analysis, says Arbiom uses a fermentation technique to turn wood into “a yeast single-cell protein that can be used as a replacement for plant protein concentrates.”2

Ricardo Ekmay, the company’s vice president of nutrition, says torula yeast produces a protein marketed as SylPro, first used in trials as a product for fish food, following studies on tilapia and Atlantic salmon at Matis in Iceland and hybrid striped bass at Texas A&M University.3

Trials exploring the product’s use in pet food are currently being evaluated. As a company, Arbiom utilizes experts in bioprocessing technology, engineering, fermentation and molecular biology, as well as animal nutrition, according to Bio-based Industries Consortium, adding:

“Arbiom is committed to meeting the sharp increase in global protein requirements with technology that transforms the most sustainable and readily available carbon source in the world — wood — into natural, economical, traceable, and sustainable supply of protein with enhanced amino acid content for animal feed.

Arbiom's bioprocessing and fermentation technology enables an economically viable production pathway from wood to food. Arbiom's protein-rich ingredient (brand name: SylPro®) offers a high-quality protein-source for feed manufacturers. Within the feed market space, SylPro® is intended for aquaculture, swine, and companion animals.”4

How Torula Yeast Is Being Introduced as a Food Source

PetfoodIndustry.com recently weighed in on Ekmay’s presentation at the annual pet food industry trade show known as Petfood Forum.5 Arbiom executives talked about their work with torula yeast and touted why it’s a viable product to introduce to the supply chain of the pet food industry.

Presented as a novel protein source, torula yeast is said to exhibit several properties that make it even more attractive for pet food and livestock feed applications. Besides torula being sustainable, the wood it digests is also renewable and plentiful, as it’s easily acquired from existing supply chains that generate an abundance of residue material.

Additionally, Ekmay says torula yeast is easy to handle, as well as extrude. More importantly, it contains amino acids as well as “functional fibers”6 that may be beneficial for animals’ digestive health, without any allergens or heavy metals. Food Ingredients First notes:

“The product is a highly bioavailable source of protein and amino acids, according to the company. It also contains functional fibers including beta-glucans, as well as B vitamins, which are necessary for good health. Additionally, a recent pig model evaluation indicated that overall protein digestibility is 96 percent.”7

Ekmay says conscious shoppers drive consumer demand for producing food sustainably, so an increasing amount of social and ethical considerations must be made in the process. However, he continues:

“Sustainability efforts aren’t driven solely on the consumer side. Predictable and continued access to a consistent supply of raw materials is critical to the food and feed industry.

Variability in raw materials and lack of traceability can heavily impact the final product quality, including food safety. Therefore, ensuring the long-term, sustainable supply of raw materials is an important topic to the food and feed industry at large.”8

SylPro Trials Examine Torula Yeast Viability

The trials on Arbiom’s SylPro product were based on guidelines established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)9 and designed to compare to a conventionally prepared chicken made for dog consumption. According to New Food Magazine:10

“The ingredient ‘SylPro’ is a yeast single-cell protein (SCP) that is produced from wood-derived media in fermentation and final downstream processing stage to achieve the appropriate nutritional and functional attributes for use in animal feed.”

As trial participants, eight adult Labrador retrievers from Four Rivers Kennel in Fayetteville, Arkansas, were fed the “formulated diet” for 26 weeks. Researchers who made the necessary clinical observations checked the animals’ blood values, stool samples and body weight. By the end of the study, they concluded the dogs’ stool samples showed a slight improvement — one point on a 1 to 5 scale.

As many readers here know, AAFCO’s “gold standard” feeding trial parameters are a joke, so don’t let this tiny cohort of dogs consuming this novel ingredient convince you it’s a wise choice for a long-term diet that creates healthy well-being.

Additionally, “Previous studies also showed SylPro confers additional functional benefits as a binder, allowing formulators to reduce the need for soy or wheat as binding agents.”11 As Craig Coon, poultry nutritionist at the University of Arkansas, and president and founder of Four Rivers Kennel, states:

“We saw promising results compared to the control diet in our dogs’ acceptance of the new food and overall health and performance … The study results validate that Arbiom’s protein product can be a nutritional, sustainable, natural and traceable alternative protein ingredient for use in adult dog food.”12

The Food Dogs Need

It must be noted that forward-thinking veterinary nutritionists agree that what dogs need to maintain vibrant health is fresh, human-grade food as opposed to processed, feed-grade kibble made from recycled or rejected raw materials. As people begin to examine their own diets and find them wanting in the necessary nutrients department, they also, as pet owners, naturally begin to look more closely at what their pets are eating.

The fact is, kibble, aka dry pet food that is bagged in bulk and convenient for pet owners to give to their dogs, has lots of issues, starting with a lack of real nutritional significance. It’s prone to spoilage if it’s not stored properly and loaded with contaminants (glyphosate residues, AGEs, heavy metals) but more importantly, it often lacks the optimal animal-derived proteins, healthy fats, antioxidants and enzymes your pet needs.

When they look closely, people are beginning to see that in today’s fast-paced economy, it’s often easiest for veterinarians in the making as well as those who’ve been in the industry for years to rely on representatives from pet food companies to tell them which “diets” are best for individual dogs, depending on their age, size and/or symptoms.

There are some innovative, new companies focusing on creating sustainable alternatives to animal protein that have a place in the human food market, and the animal-feed market, if biologically appropriate.

This new wood-derived protein source may be appropriate for some species of animals (potentially serving the aquaculture community), but it pales in comparison to dogs’ and cats’ ancestral protein sources and no studies have been conducted to assure the long-term nutritional adequacy of this novel plant-based protein for carnivores.