How does BioStar source ingredients?
Have you ever looked down a list of ingredients on packaged feed or supplements and wondered what and where those ingredients come from? Not only the country of origin, but also how ingredients were grown, harvested, processed, and extracted. Are the ingredients made in a laboratory or grown on a farm? How was it grown? Was it produced sustainably? Is it fair trade?
These are just a few of the questions we ask when sourcing ingredients for our supplements.
One of the challenges of being a whole food supplement company is sourcing ingredients of the highest quality possible.
Even in a global economy where there can be many choices, finding quality raw materials is a little like being Indiana Jones on the hunt for rare archeological treasures. From locating to testing, learn how BioStar discerns which ingredient “makes the cut” to be included in one of its supplements for your horse or dog.
Certificate of Analysis
Raw materials, including samples, are accompanied by a Certificate of Analysis (COA). The COA includes a batch or lot number and microbial count testing which includes salmonella, sometimes heavy metals, moisture, ash, protein, etc. For example, COA’s show if a fruit or vegetable powder is drum dried with maltodextrin, drum dried without maltodextrin, or freeze dried. In the case of oil, a COA will show if the oil has been solvent extracted or cold-pressed. Some COA’s are highly detailed, while others provide minimal information.
But these COA’s are only one part of the complicated process of sourcing ingredients. A good example is bovine colostrum. There are plenty of colostrum sources in the global economy, but what are the ethics of these colostrum suppliers? Is the colostrum from cows whose calves are taken away when they are a day or two old to be raised as veal calves? Are the cows pasture raised or do they spend all their time in stall confinement?
The answers to these ethical questions are very important to BioStar.
The process of finding a new ingredient
When information reaches me regarding a new ingredient or a recent study perks my interest in a particular food component, I dive down the rabbit hole to learn more about this raw material. I look at the research, educate myself on the various cultivation and production methods. In the case of shilajit, I experimented with it on myself for six months before we decided to beta test a shilajit extract for BioStar. My horses are the first horse beta testers of any new ingredient or product.
Recently, I stumbled upon an Astaxanthin company in Israel that has introduced a microalgae biomass. Astaxanthin is a super-antioxidant in the carotenoid family that is derived from microalgae. We use it in several BioStar formulas for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
This microalgae biomass was intriguing to me because a biomass contains more nutritional components than an isolated substance from it. Hemp biomass, for example, has more nutritional factors than just isolated CBD from the hemp plant.
In the case of this microalgae biomass, it provides additional polysaccharides, fatty acids, protein, as well as the super-antioxidant astaxanthin and other carotenoids. The polysaccharides really caught my attention since research is showing the role specific polysaccharides play in stomach and intestinal mucosal protection.
I scheduled a conference call with one of their algae experts in Israel to learn more about the company and their products. For BioStar it is important to have a relationship with companies and suppliers, which is actually easier with these smaller, innovative companies who do not have layers of people that you have to go through to get answers.
As can sometimes happen when speaking to people in other parts of the globe, the scientist I spoke with had a very strong accent and I had a difficult time understanding what he was saying to me. After a few laughs and clarifications, we were able to effectively communicate about the growing and harvesting processes of microalgae, the percentage of astaxanthin content, and the other cofactors. The scientist and I were able to make a connection, albeit, prompted by a laugh. We both agreed at the end of the call that email was probably the best way to communicate on a regular basis.
Finding and Testing Samples
In order to really understand a raw material when sourcing ingredients, particularly a specialty raw material, it is imperative to get a sample. With very expensive raw material, such as this microalgae biomass, getting a pound or more of it as a free sample is out of the question. Most samples for specialty ingredients are only 100 grams! Fortunately this microalgae does not require a large sample per dose because it is so dense and concentrated.
Once the sample arrives and I have reviewed the COA to meet our specifications, we smell and taste it, offer tiny amounts to the dogs, and assign a portion to be tested by our group of beta test horses. If the beta test comes back with favorable palatability, then we will take the remainder of the sample and blend it with the other components of a new formula. Then another test will go back out to our group of beta test horses.
Some of our raw material needs to be beta tested over time to see what the results are in horses or dogs. If that is the case, such as with amalaki, reed sedge peat or our custom mineral blend, we will go ahead and order it, even though it may not end up providing the efficacy and results we are looking for.
Price is seldom if ever a consideration and has never been a priority. Proven quality of raw material, how it is processed, harvested, how well it supports the horse or dog, sustainability, and corporate responsibility are BioStar’s priorities when sourcing ingredients. I will lower our profit margin in order to accommodate a high-quality ingredient into a formula.
There are economic risks in new product development particularly with specialty ingredients, such as our custom proteinated minerals. Since they are not offered for sale in smaller amounts, they have to be ordered at a minimum of 50-100 kilos (110-220 pounds) or more at a cost of $80/kilo. It can be a large outlay just for product beta testing.
I learned about quality ingredients from my dad. He was an executive of a very large food/dairy/chemical company, and a stickler for quality ingredients. He used to say that it is better to shave money off the advertising budget, than short-change on ingredients. I couldn’t agree more.
High quality ingredients make high quality products which are healthier for your horse and dog. BioStar sources nutrients from mostly organic, non-GMO, whole foods based on our knowledge that whole food is the best source of nutrition in its most bioavailable form. Real, whole food ingredients make an enormous difference in health, performance, and well being. The sources of our raw materials are carefully researched and tested. Each ingredient is chosen for superior quality and sustainable sources, with “farm to table” traceability. We refuse to add vitamins that are made from by-products of the petroleum industry. Natural and artificial flavorings, preservatives, and inorganic minerals such as carbonates, oxides, and sulfates do not meet our standards and therefore do not make the ingredient list.
Reading labels for sourcing and quality
It is hard to tell from reading an ingredient listing on feed or supplements just what the level of quality is and where the ingredients came from. We consumers are at the mercy of what the marketing tells us.
There are a few label indicators of quality: certified organic, cold-pressed, freeze-dried, non-solvent extracted, r-BGH free, non-GMO (as it applies to the ten genetically modified crops: soy, canola, alfalfa, sunflower, squash, corn, papaya, sugar beets, apples, and potatoes).
However, feeds and nutritional supplements cannot state the country of origin of ingredients on their labels. When I first started BioStar, we put the countries of origin on the label. Then the Virginia Department of Agriculture told us that was forbidden. I, of course, argued transparency for the consumer, but it was not a battle I could win. So, we now show the countries of origin on our website, on each product page.
I thought more companies would follow suit and include countries of origin on their web pages… however, to date, that level of transparency is something unique to BioStar.
What about ingredients from China?
China dominates some sectors of the nutritional, food, and nutraceutical sectors. For example, 95% of the world’s vitamin C (ascorbic acid made from corn) is from China. If you are taking a supplement with vitamin C or giving one to your horse or dog, it is undoubtedly from China. One of the reasons for looking to China when sourcing ingredients is price.
Right now manufacturers of vitamin C in China are charging between $2.00 and $8.00 per kilo (2.2 pounds). Even at $8 per kilo, the manufacturer is paying less than one cent per serving!
BioStar uses either whole oranges (.87 each) or freeze-dried whole orange powder including fruit, pulp and peel ($25.00 per kilo). Whole food simply costs more.
There are ingredients that China grows and produces at a higher quality than others. Among these are the traditional Chinese herbs, traditional extracts, medicinal mushrooms, and teas. This is because they have thousands of years of experience cultivating and using these ingredients.
An element all supplement companies depend on
Supplement companies depend on consumers’ trust. At BioStar we take that trust very seriously. You have entrusted your horse and dog’s well being to the companies you purchase feed and supplements from. That is why we are so picky about sourcing ingredients and why we are so meticulous about how we make our formulations in house, and not by a third party. BioStar takes the responsibility you have given us to heart.
About the Author: With over 30 years experience in the equine and human supplement industry, Tigger Montague knows nutrition from the synthetic side as well as the whole food side. She started BioStar US in 2006 with formulas she created in her kitchen. Before she started the company, she was an avid rider and competitor with eventing and show jumping, until she got hooked on dressage in the late 1980’s. She has competed on horses she’s owned and trained all the way from training level to Grand Prix.