Remember November: the rise and fall of synthetic antioxidants

This month it is ‘Remember November’ on the Perstorp Animal Nutrition social media channels. That means we’ll be looking back on how our industry has changed over the years. What did we learn? What did we forget?
Who better to ask than Koen Schwarzer? A respected innovator with over 40 years of experience, working for several of the most prominent key players in feed additives. A man who was at the helm of many innovations over the past decades. Innovations that are some of the most generally accepted solutions today. This week, Schwarzer reflects on the rise and decline of synthetic antioxidants after the birth of the pet food industry in early eighties.

Bruno, Magnus, Sacha… whatever names they were called, whatever breed they were from, pets used to just eat the families’ leftovers and/or meat waste products (kidneys, liver, hearts, etc.). ‘It wasn’t until the mid-seventies that the number of cats and dogs and social status of our pets started to increase and simultaneously the human life style changed moving from home cooking to fast-food, that the industry started to react on the growing demand for a new kind of food: pet food.’

New industry, new questions
How to preserve pet food? How to keep bacteria out? The emergence of this new industry in the 1980’s brought on new questions’, explains Schwarzer. ‘As production grew, pet food products larger distribution networks.. The necessity to guarantee the shelf-life of pet food increased.

Canned food
The first pet foods to reach the market were canned meats. Preserving fresh meat products was already well-understood from the food side. However the down-side is that opened cans have to be stored in a fridge in the kitchen and the opened cans tended to have an unpleasant odor.

Pet food kibbles
Emerging techniques such as expansion and extrusion gave a new direction of dry pet food for the industry to explore explains Schwarzer. ‘Improving the quality of the raw materials was essential to safeguard the shelf-life of dry pet food’, Schwarzer recalls. ‘The raw materials consisted of waste from the abattoirs; animal proteins that easily spoiled due to autoxidation and microbes. Schwarzer and his colleagues discovered antioxidants and anti-bacteriostatic s based on synergetic effects, with which the quality of animal protein meals and as a consequences also of the entire kibbles could be assured over a longer storage period. ‘’ Antioxidants commonly used to stabilize animal fats and protein meals were mostly based on ethoxyquin. This antioxidant molecule was banned for food use in the mid 80’s because of its carcinogenic effects. Schwarzer: ‘In the early 1990’s there was a true revolution in synthetic antioxidants towards food approved molecules such as BHA, BHT, propyl gallate.’

Natural antioxidants
As standards for people and pets are becoming more and more aligned, natural antioxidants are becoming favored over synthetic antioxidants, as the risk status of certain synthetic molecules is doubtful as well. Schwarzer: ‘Today, the once abundantly used ethoxyquin is unthinkable, the pet food industry now increasingly turns to the same antioxidants used for consumers: plant extracts and other natural antioxidants.’

From synthetic antioxidant molecules to natural antioxidant alternatives Schwarzer witnessed the rise and fall of antioxidants in an industry born over 40 years ago. ‘Even after four decades, this exciting field with its interesting developments never ceases to sparkle me’, concludes the passionate scientist.

Stay tuned for more ‘remember November’ posts on perstorp.com or our Animal Nutrition social media channels..Be sure to also read the other recent 'Remember November' articles about the way organic acid solutions have evolved over the decades,  the impact that climate change has had on the additives that are used in animal nutrition or the changes that feed hygiene has gone through over the decades..