What You Need to Know About Horse Food Additives and Preservatives

What You Need to Know About Horse Food Additives and Preservatives

I thought a dive into learning how to read a feed label was all that would be required to understand manufactured horse feed. I thought this would be simple. I thought this would be quick. I was wrong. I ended up spending hours with Google, searching for definitions of dozens of unpronounceable ingredients that are mixed into horse food. About half way into the process, I began to feel dread at each unrecognized word. Linoleum binders, concrete binders, pond sealants, petroleum extracts, all cloaked in 20 letter, multisyllabic words.

These are largely “organic” compounds, like pulp leftover from manufacturing of paper. Sodium Bentonite (clay) is a natural sealant and is used for sealing stock and recreational ponds, dairy and sewage lagoons, and city landfills. It is my opinion that these ingredients are not necessary, and so they do not belong in our horse food. 


When did this start? Why is this allowed? Is this actually necessary? Who looks out for the health of the horse? What does this do to the gastrointestinal tract of my horse? All of these questions, and more, caused me to trek back in time to try to understand how we arrived here, at a place where scientists and government regulators believe we can add non-food items and waste to horse food without it severely and adversely affecting their health. My search into the history of preservatives and food additives led me to the “hygienic table trials'' of Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, whose participants would later be dubbed “The Poison Squad” by Washington Post journalist George Rothwell Brown. I have included this segment here because trials such as this continue with animals today, with corporate lobbyists determining safety of toxic elements.


The Poison Squad of 1902

The Poison Squad was the name given to a group of volunteers who ate commonly used food additives in order to determine their effects on the human body. The squad was created by Dr. Harvey Wiley.  Dr. Wiley  was concerned about the food industry’s use of dangerous chemicals to cut, mimic, or enhance the flavor of foods because of what he perceived to be  “little regard for effects on human health”. Prior to Dr. Wiley’s work, powerful corporate lobbying interests had successfully thwarted attempts to regulate what was put into food so Dr. Wiley decided to show Congress that toxic agents in food were causing illness. In order to achieve this “show and tell” Dr. Wiley’s team of poison eating volunteers knowingly consumed increasing amounts of chemical additives so the impacts on their health could be monitored. Ingestion of a chemical additive would stop when members of the Squad became ill. Their work was immortalized in songs and poetry, including the one I’ve posted here.



"The Song of the Pizen (Poison) Squad," by poet S.W. Gillilain

On Prussic acid we break our fast; 

we lunch on a morphine stew; 

We dine with a matchhead consomme, 

drink carbolic acid brew; 

Corrosive sublimate tones us up 

like laudanum ketchup rare, 

While tyro-toxicon condiments 

are wholesome as mountain air. 

Thus all the "deadlies" we double-dare 

to put us beneath the sod; 

We're death-immunes and we're proud as proud-- 

           Hooray for the Pizen Squad! 

If you care to learn more about the Poison Squad, here is a link to a relatively short but well written article from Esquire Magazine.


In my next blogs I will give you a glimpse into the pasture management, crop management, feed production and what we are now learning about the impacts this is having on horse health.