Why does beet pulp get such a bad rap?

Sugar beet
The sugar beet looks a lot like a turnip. Nearly 50% of the sugar in the US comes from sugar beets.

Every couple of years, I see another article that expounds on the toxicity of beet pulp. If you believe these claims, I can’t blame you for steering clear of beet pulp, because the articles make it sound like you might as well just feed your horses a diet of pesticides and poisonous chemicals. However, if beet pulp really was toxic, my guess is we’d be seeing a lot of horses with serious health issues because just about every commercial feed on the market has beet pulp as a main ingredient.

I don’t have any dog in the game. I don’t care if you feed your horse beet pulp or not. As a point of reference, I’ve fed my own horses beet pulp or a beet-pulp based feed for more than a decade without any health issues. Your mileage may vary. However, I think it’s a shame that information posted on the web develops a life of its own without any scientific data to back up the claims, especially going into winter when horse owners are considering how to add long-stem forage and water to their horses’ diets.

Most Recent Beet Pulp Warning

The marketing website BioEquine.com has published a recent “Beet Pulp Warning for Horses” with quotes from two equine nutritionists. Keep in mind that the nice folks at BioEquine are selling a bioavailable silica product as a toxin binder, which they recommend feeding to offset the potential issues with beet pulp. “So if you are not sure about your feed being sprayed with herbicides or pesticides, there is another reason to supplement with BioEquine.

Here are the quotes from their website:

“Doing some interesting research on sugar beets right now. The bottom line is do not feed beet pulp to your horses. Three good reasons. The first is Glyphosate from Round Up Ready Sugar Beets that drastically reduces the uptake of minerals and which kills bacteria in the hindgut. The second is that sugar beets are sponges for arsenic which is a problem in the Taber area where the refinery is. The third is Disodium Cyanodithioimidocarbonate (DCDIC), the chemical that is used to strip the sugar from the beets, which is a toxin and banned from use as a pesticide…but we feed it to our horses in beet pulp.” –  Ross Buchanan

“I also had my own unfortunate experience with a feed. In less than a month my horses were all having health problems. Two had gas colic, one ran a temperature of 106 (depressed immune system), and my laminitic mare lost weight. Testing of this feed at Equi-analytical Laboratories in Ithaca, N.Y showed it contained 600 ppm aluminum and over 500 ppm iron (500 ppm is toxic to horses). As beet pulp was the main ingredient I researched its iron and aluminum content. The Equi-analytical library showed beet pulp contains high iron. I also found that aluminum sulfate is used as a press agent to remove sugar from beets. Thus beet pulp is the source of elevated levels of iron and aluminum. Beet pulp is used as an ingredient in some senior and performance feeds because of its high digestibility. In my opinion, the high iron and aluminum content makes it a poor choice for horses. — Dr. Susan Cook

So, is there any truth to this?

So far I’ve not seen any data that supports these claims and it’s important to remember that the plural of anecdote is not data. I’ve fed either straight beet pulp (with a ration balancer) or a beet-pulp based feed like Triple Crown Senior for more than a decade. Knock on wood my horses have never colicked, never run a fever and not lost weight. I’m not sure what was going on with her horses but just because two things happen at the same time it doesn’t mean there is a correlation between them.

The problem with the Internet is that anyone can be an expert. Publish your opinion on a topic and it may go viral. All of a sudden, one person’s opinion blankets the web and everyone assumes that it must be gospel.
I don’t know much about the qualifications of the people quoted on the BioEquine website. There is no information about Russ Buchanan on his website, so I can’t comment on his credentials. The only information I’ve found about Dr. Susan Cook, PhD is an article she wrote on using hair analysis to determine your horse’s health. I won’t go into it here, because it’s worth another blog post, but the validity of this method was debunked by David Ramey, DVM, who publishes a great job on the application of science to medicine. His blog is a must read.
So, back to the specifics. Dr. Susan Garlinghouse, who is both a vet and an equine nutritionist, has several times written on the benefits of feeding beet pulp and has written in response to various concerns and inaccuracies (I quote her in an earlier blog post on Equine Ink). In response to another popular article (which claims that beet pulp is toxic) she wrote:
Sugar beets don’t “store” pesticides in the pulp. If they did, it wouldn’t be very effective in eliminating bugs on the outside of the plant, would it? I’ve seen the tox assay reports on beet pulp and the results were pretty much nil. I also ran my own on beets straight from the field and hosed off in my driveway–also nil. Also, shredded beet pulp gets tossed into a water bath and the water with soluble sugars (which is the cash crop here) is removed and dried to the table sugar end product. If there were residues, it’s more likely they’d be present in higher concentrations in the table sugar.

Then, there is the direct response to the BioEquine posting from Triple Crown. Yes, they are a feed manufacturer that uses beet pulp in many of their formulations. But I don’t believe that they want to poison their customers’ horses. In fact most complete feeds now include beet pulp — certainly Legends, Triple Crown and Blue Seal all use it as an ingredient.

The current and ongoing research continues to support that beet pulp is a safe and beneficial ingredient in horse feeds….

I will do my best to address each issue from the website you cited below:

The first is “Glyphosate from Round Up Ready Sugar Beets that drastically reduces the uptake of minerals and which kills bacteria in the hindgut.”

I would ask them to post the references to the studies that support this, because if it is the Seralini study which is most likely what they are referencing, has been retracted –“ the small sample size and lack of statistical analysis. The entire study is premised on comparing various dose groups with control groups that were not exposed to GMO or glyphosate. And yet, the authors provide no statistical analysis of this comparison. Given the small number of rats in each group, it is likely that this lack of statistical analysis is due to the fact that statistical significance could not be reached.

1 – Glyphosate/Roundup residues in sugar made from GMO beets is zero – undetectable. Levels seen for the pulp are also extremely low, less than 1 ppm. This is not surprising considering glyphosate (roundup) is water soluble and the beets undergo extensive washing and soaking in the sugar making/beet pulp making process. Keep in mind, even organic products have trace amounts of herbicides and pesticide residue (for which the safety has not even been tested as extensively as glyphosate)

The study that I am aware of that addresses gut bacteria interference based their conclusion on – “The incidence of inflammatory bowel diseases such as juvenile onset Crohn’s disease has increased substantially in the last decade in Western Europe and the United States. It is reasonable to suspect that glyphosate’s impact on gut bacteria may be contributing to these diseases and conditions.”.. But this is like saying Autism and organic food sales have both increased in the last 15 years so organic food must be causing Autism. So again here, no proof or even strong indication that glyphosate interferes with gut microbes in a negative way from this “paper”.

The second is “that sugar beets are sponges for arsenic which is a problem in the Taber area where the refinery is”.

2- Arsenic is a naturally-occurring element in our environment. Most foods contain traces of arsenic – some more than others so it is not something we can get away from.. the benefits of using beet pulp (low sugar/starch levels, digestibility, caloric content, etc.) far outweigh the risks of using beet pulp in animal feeds versus other products on the market. Animals have been eating beet pulp for decades with no ill effect and humans eat tons of table sugar (which is the product of beet pulp) and people are not dying from arsenic poisoning… dying from eating too much sugar on the other hand….but that is another topic

The third is “Disodium Cyanodithioimidocarbonate (DCDIC), the chemical that is used to strip the sugar from the beets, which is a toxin and banned from use as a pesticide…but we feed it to our horses in beet pulp.”

3– This statement is so misleading, yes – DCDIC is not approved as a pesticide… Ice cream is also not approved as a pesticide… DCDIC is approved and used in food processing, paper mills, water systems etc. as a “slimicide” to control slime-forming bacteria, algae and fungi.. in the systems.

“Additional Beet Pulp Warning – Added February 2015….”
– There is no feed analysis published here and she doesn’t mention the name of the feed that she was using… so no way for the feed company to provide an analysis from their retained sample to defend their product… We don’t know if she sent the feed off for the proper type of testing… if she used NIR testing (which is the fastest and least expensive, but not the best way to test a complete feed as the results would be totally inaccurate).

– Triple Crown Nutrition is one of very few companies that actually publish iron levels of its products on the product tag and company website. (so no worries of an “overabundance” of iron from our feeds even the ones that contain beet pulp.)

Triple Crown is committed to providing the best horse feed on the market. As science and research advances, we will continue to develop and adapt to provide supremely healthy, safe, horse feeds.

If I ever see data that shows that beet pulp is dangerous to feed to horses, I guess I will reconsider my feeding strategy, but in the meantime, I will continue to feed Triple Crown Senior to my horses. It is a low starch, high fat, highly digestible feed. It keeps Freedom a good weight without making him higher than a kite and Zelda is thriving on it too.

What do you think about beet pulp? Do you feed it?

8 thoughts on “Why does beet pulp get such a bad rap?

  1. I’ve been feeding beet pulp for years, also. Never had any issues with it. Hope this goes away as the horses who could benefit from it’s use are many. Particularly older horses or rescues and any other “hard keepers”.

    1. I completely agree. It’s a great way to supplement forage, get more water into horses that need to stay hydrated and deliver “cool calories.” For some reason, beet pulp has always been the feed people love to hate.

  2. I feed beet pulp, always have & probably always will but then I’m old fashioned & I feed oats 🙂 Another feed some folk love to hate !

  3. what about carrot? i used to feed carrot and people told me to stop doing that as it’ll cause tooth decay. but my horses just love them!

    1. Unless you are feeding a LOT of carrots, I can’t see that it would be a problem. The only time I’ve been warned against feeding carrots was with a horse that was Insulin Resistant. Interesting question, though. I will research it and report back.

  4. Im not a fan of beet pulp, so I try to stay away from it as much as possible – the industry likes it because its cheap and they will down play any one who oppposes their profits. Use it at your own risk but don’t hide the facts.

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