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Ecological and healthy dog food from abattoir by-products
Kotieläinravitsemuksen tutkijatohtori Siru Salin siirtyi PoDoCo-apurahan turvin Helsingin yliopistosta lemmikkieläinrehujen tuotekehitystiimiin Snellmanin Lihanjalostus Oy:lle.
Siru Salin, postdoctoral researcher in domestic animal nutrition, received a PoDoCo grant to transfer from the University of Helsinki into a pet food product development team at Snellmanin Lihanjalostus Oy.
When steaks and minced meat are removed from carcasses for human consumption, plenty of meat, viscera, blood, connective tissue, bones and fat are still left behind. The postdoctoral researcher in domestic animal nutrition Siru Salin was employed by the Snellman meat processing company in August to explore whether these secondary abattoir products could be more effectively utilised in formulating a new dog food product.

Text: Antti Kivimäki
Photos: Anna Bui

In the past, some of the by-products were supplied to fur farms and the rest to pet-food producers. With fur farming continuously declining, it is worth considering how the products could be more effectively put to use elsewhere, Salin says.

It is a simple idea but one which requires plenty of fine-tuning

New recipes are tested on pet dogs. Testing is used to examine the effects of diverse protein sources and gentle cooking on a dog’s ability to absorb the protein. The aim is to create a product that leads to optimal protein absorption, which then reduces environmental nitrogen pollution.

Vitamins and fibre are added to make a complete meal that provides all the nutrients needed by dogs.

An actual raw food diet requires a lot of knowledge. For my own dog I keep a careful spreadsheet to ensure he receives all the necessary nutrients, vitamins, minerals and micronutrients, Salin explains.

Siru Salin ja Chesapeakelahdennoutaja Dante
Siru Salin and 13-weeks old Chesapeake Bay Retriever Dante.

Many dog owners lack the time and competence required for this. Nor does defrosted raw food keep very long. With this new, gently cooked product selection, Snellman is looking to expand its clientele to dog owners who want feeding their dog to be a little easier.”

Salin’s journey to become a postdoctoral researcher has been unusual. After upper secondary school, she completed a Bachelor’s degree in business administration and worked as managing director and account manager of a sound design company, as well as running a riding school.

A love for animals and interest in dogs held since childhood brought Salin to the University of Helsinki to study animal sciences as a mature student in the early 2000s. While studying, she was an entrepreneur in the real estate business with her husband.

In her doctoral thesis, completed in 2020, Salin explored the effects of feed with an excessive energy content on insulin resistance, excess weight and metabolic disorders in dairy cows.  

As such, insulin resistance and weight-gain mechanisms seem to work in similar ways in many mammals, including dogs, cows and humans.

Even before completing her PhD, Salin was a member of the DogRisk Research Group of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. There she edited and analysed a large body of survey data related to Finnish dog-owners, looking for links between canine diets and diverse illnesses.

At dietary seminars in Finland, Salin met Magnus Pettersson, Business Director of Snellman Petfood.

I was very active in contacting him and sharing my research ideas concerning the enhanced utilisation of the raw material by-products of human food production. We both agreed that there hadn’t been much academic research on canine nutrition in Finland, and that raw feeding and gently cooked products had been studied very little areound the world, Salin explains.

After a few meetings, Petterson was convinced by Salin’s idea, and Salin soon made a PoDoCo application.

The idea behind the PoDoCo (PostDocs in Companies) grant is to open channels for recent doctoral graduates to enter careers in companies. A PoDoCo project lasts for one or two years, with funding from foundations being provided for six or twelve months, followed by a matching period of employment with the partnering company.

Salin made a two-year contract with Snellman and is now a team member taking part in pet food product development.

In these grant applications, it’s really important to be proactive. If you believe in your mission and agenda, it’s easy to convince others, but a suitable partner won’t just fall out of the sky: you have to have the courage to seek them out.

Salin points out that there are many pet food enterprises in Finland that would not have the resources to carry out scientific research to support their product development. If small companies were to get together as a consortium or cooperative, they might be able to employ a postdoctoral researcher via the PoDoCo system, for example.

Siru Salin, postdoctoral researcher in domestic animal nutrition, received a PoDoCo grant in 2021 to to explore whether the secondary abattoir products could be more effectively utilised in formulating a new dog food product.