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Algae technology helps treat wastewater

Iowa State University Martin Gross, left, and Zhiyou Wen developed this algae reactor at the BioCentury Research Farm.
Martin Gross, left, and Zhiyou Wen developed this algae reactor at the BioCentury Research Farm.

Iowa State University technology that improves the efficiency of wastewater reclamation using algae has gotten the attention of small Iowa communities and the largest wastewater treatment system in the world.

“This reactor greatly improves the efficiency of carbon dioxide and sunlight absorption. We found that the biomass productivity is about 10 times higher than a conventional system,” said Zhiyou Wen, professor of food science and human nutrition who developed the system with Martin Gross, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Crops Utilization Research.

The system uses vertical conveyor belts that are about 6 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide and revolve in a continual loop, cycling through the wastewater and air as multiple layers of algae grow on them.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Ill., has tested the Revolving Algal Biofilm treatment system. It has finished a yearlong study treating waste streams from one of its water reclamation plants and extended the research project another year because of promising results.

Algae absorbs phosphorus and nitrogen from the wastewater, along with carbon dioxide from the air. Wastewater is typically treated with a bacterial process that produces sludge, which creates odor and disposal issues.

The algae produced from this new process can be harvested, pelletized and used as a sustainable fertilizer. Wen and Gross have started a company, Gross-Wen Technologies, that obtained a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop the algae-based fertilizer. Gross serves as chief executive officer of the company.

Wen and Gross also produced a mobile version of the system that can travel to communities and businesses around Iowa.

“Instead of inviting a local community’s water treatment personnel to come to our (Iowa State) facility to perform water treatment tests, we built this trailer to take to the community to treat wastewater on site,” Wen said.

The trailer was recently taken to Dallas Center, Iowa, for a project at its water treatment facility.

Wen said communities in Iowa are facing more restrictive regulations for the removal of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater, likely requiring costly treatment facility upgrades that could be avoided by instead implementing the algae system. About 500 small communities in Iowa could be affected by the new regulations. He said these communities are looking at treatment system upgrades that could cost as much as $5 million, which is a huge burden on these small towns.

“So, that’s the niche for us. We have this algae cultivation system that can help these communities meet their new nutrient limits at a fraction of the cost of other systems,” Wen said.

The trailer also was recently used to test the system at CJ Bio America, a feed supplement company in Ft. Dodge, Iowa. The test generated data to determine the cost of implementing the algae system at the plant.

Bob Evans selling restaurants, acquiring potato farm

bob evans restaurant

Bob Evans Farms Inc. (BEF) announced this week two “transformational transactions” resulting from the board of directors' strategic review of the company's alternatives for creating shareholder value. The company said it is selling its Bob Evans Restaurants and acquiring Pineland Farms Potato Co. (PFPC), marking the beginning of a new era at BEF in which it will focus exclusively on realizing the full potential of its BEF Foods business. BEF Foods is the national market share leader in refrigerated dinner side dishes and is also the market share leader in sausage products in its core Midwest markets.

The company said the new Bob Evans, further strengthened by the manufacturing and intellectual capital of PFPC, is positioned to be a higher-profit and higher-growth company that is expected to provide better returns to shareholders and an enhanced product line for customers.

BEF has entered into a definitive agreement for the sale of Bob Evans Restaurants to an affiliate of Golden Gate Capital for $565 million plus the assumption of certain net working capital liabilities at the time of closing that are estimated to be $40-50 million. The company estimates that cash proceeds net of taxes and transaction-related costs will be $475-485 million. Net cash proceeds are expected to be used to repay current indebtedness and payment of a special dividend.

Additionally, the company announced the purchase of PFPC for $115 million. The purchase price may be increased by up to $25 million if certain financial metrics are achieved during a 24-month period after closing.

“Today, we announced two transactions that are a major step in our strategic transformation that we believe will continue Bob Evans' history of success,” BEF president and chief executive officer Saed Mohseni said. "The sale of Bob Evans Restaurants enables us to concentrate exclusively on BEF Foods, our fastest-growing and most profitable segment. We believe this focus will result in higher returns for our shareholders, and as a more focused private business, Bob Evans Restaurants will be better able to deliver on its brand promise of providing quality food and hospitality to every guest at every meal.”

Mohseni said Bob Evans Restaurants has made tremendous progress over the last few years as the company teams have striven to upgrade every aspect of the guest experience.

“We believe our talented restaurant teams, combined with Golden Gate Capital's industry expertise and significant resources, positions Bob Evans Restaurants well for realizing its full potential,” he added.

Regarding the purchase of PFPC, Mohseni said he believes the transaction will better enable BEF Foods to continue growing and innovating, noting, “The acquisition of PFPC not only increases our side-dish production capacity; it provides capability to produce and sell diced and shredded potato products in both the retail and foodservice channels.”

He said the acquisition also diversifies the company’s production capability by adding a second state-of-the-art potato processing facility with 180 million lb. of capacity, 50 million lb. of which are expected to come on line in April 2017.

PFPC also comes with a 900-acre potato farm and is surrounded by an additional 55,000-plus acres of annual potato production. “Its close proximity to tens of thousands of acres of potato production is particularly attractive as it greatly reduces transportation costs,” Mohseni added.

BEF Foods' side-dish product mix is expected to reach 66% of sales volume by 2020, and the PFPC acquisition mitigates the need for near-term capital spending for additional capacity to meet growth targets. “Following the completion of these transactions, Bob Evans will be focused exclusively on sales and profit growth of BEF Foods," he said.

Mike Townsley, president of BEF Foods, will assume the role of president and chief executive officer of Bob Evans. Townsley joined Bob Evans as president and chief operating officer of Owens Foods Inc. in June 2003. He was appointed president of BEF Foods in June 2008 and also served as co-CEO from December 2014 to September 2015.

Chief administrative and chief financial officer Mark Hood will remain in his role. Mohseni will continue leading Bob Evans Restaurants following the transaction.

"Bob Evans Restaurants is an exceptional brand, uniquely differentiated by its deep-rooted heritage of farm-fresh food and heartfelt hospitality,” said Josh Cohen, managing director at Golden Gate Capital. “As an independent company partnered with Golden Gate Capital, Bob Evans Restaurants will be well-positioned to sharpen its focus on enhancing the business, with increased flexibility and resources to grow the company for the long term. We look forward to working with Saed Mohseni and the talented management team to support Bob Evans Restaurants as it enters this exciting new chapter."

Sheep's milk may be next functional dairy food

A paper published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science & Food Safety explored the physicochemical and nutritional characteristics of sheep's milk and development of sheep's milk dairy products containing prebiotics and/or probiotics.

According to the authors, cow's milk is the most commonly consumed milk, dominating global milk production with 782 million tons in 2013. Furthermore, 85% of the world's milk production is derived from cattle, followed by milk from species such as buffalo (11%), goats (2.3%), sheep (1.4%) and camels (0.2%).

However, milk-producing sheep farms represent a significant part of the agrarian economies in many countries, especially those bordering the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East.

Sheep's milk is an excellent source of nutrients and is mainly used for cheese production due to its high total solids content, contributing to a high cheese yield. However, the functional benefits of this food matrix remain unexplored by the dairy industry.

“Sheep milk has many (functional) qualities that need to be explored. It’s much more than a simple delicatessen to produce fine cheeses,” Celso Fasura Balthazar, lead author of the paper, explained.

More studies are needed to investigate the effects of the addition of probiotic microorganisms and, especially, prebiotic components in sheep dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy desserts.

Read the full article here.

 

ACC calls for reform of IARC carcinogen classifications

processed meat bacon sausages

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) launched the Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research (CAPHR), an initiative to promote credible, unbiased and transparent science as the basis of public policy decisions.

In particular, CAPHR will seek reform of the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) Monographs Program, which evaluates the carcinogenic hazard of substances and behaviors. IARC’s Monographs Program suffers from persistent scientific and process deficiencies that result in public confusion and misinformed policy-making.

Those in agricultural circles are familiar with the harm caused by IARC’s classifications of meat and glyphosate as possible carcinogenics.

ACC said leading scientists have criticized the IARC Monographs Program for its lack of “transparency, minimal consideration of the weight of scientific evidence, misapplied conflict of interest policies and confusing communication of its monograph decisions. Rather than informing consumers of carcinogenic risks in realistic exposure scenarios, IARC considers only a substance’s hazard: whether the substance could cause cancer in humans under any circumstances, in most cases at exposure levels far beyond what is typical.”

“The IARC Monographs Program has been responsible for what ACC claimed as countless misleading headlines about the safety of the food we eat, the jobs we do and the products we use in our daily lives,” ACC president and chief executive officer Cal Dooley said. “By offering specific proposals for reform, the CAPHR hopes to play a constructive role in improving the IARC Monographs Program to ensure consumers, public health officials and regulators benefit from more credible and relevant information.”

The consequences of IARC’s monographs go beyond dubious and misleading news coverage; IARC’s decisions have a significant impact on U.S. public policy and marketplace deselection, ACC said. For example, California’s chemical labeling law, Proposition 65, uses IARC classifications to require warning labels on consumer products despite an often infinitesimal risk of developing cancer as a result of products’ proper use. IARC classifications have also been used by retailers as justification to phase out certain substances.

“Public policy must be based on a transparent, thorough assessment of the best available science,” Dooley continued. “Currently, IARC’s monographs do not meet this standard, though U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for over two-thirds of the international program’s budget.”

CAPHR will be supported by a new website, Twitter handle and Facebook page. The website, www.campaignforaccuracyinpublichealthresearch.com, includes fact sheets, infographics and relevant news stories that will better inform the public about the methodology and research behind IARC’s monographs and other public health studies. ACC said it hopes that this undertaking encourages a more transparent discussion of sensationalist studies and helps prevent confusion and subsequent misallocation of resources on important public health issues.

U.S. pork exports to Central America record large in 2016

cargo ship

When year-end results are final, the U.S. Meat Export Federation said U.S. pork exports to Central America will set a new record in 2016, with growth achieved in all seven Central American countries – six of which (all except Belize) were top 20 destinations for U.S. pork.

Gerardo Rodriguez, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) marketing director in the region, said in addition to the mainstay markets of Honduras and Guatemala, U.S. pork exporters are also finding excellent growth opportunities in smaller Central American markets.

“We have, obviously, the leading markets, such as Honduras (and) Guatemala, but at the same time, we need to go to the different markets among the region,” he said. “We don’t have one specific strategy for the whole region, so we can do a tailor-made strategy with them and try to be as effective as we can.”

Promotional efforts in these countries are bolstered by lower import duties achieved through the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement, as well as the upward trend in U.S. pork production. These factors are making a wider range of U.S. pork cuts available to Central American buyers at more affordable prices.

Rodriguez said the growth is also happening because USMEF is there working on behalf of U.S. meat.

“The different countries have different duties at this point, but it’s moving forward. The amount of tariff that has been paid at this point over quota has been (declining) every time, so we have been able to be reachable,” he said, adding that there is more product coming from the U.S.

Through November 2016, U.S. pork exports to Central America reached 61,764 metric tons valued at $146.7 million, an increase of 19% in volume and 13% in value over the previous year’s pace.

 

 

GRAIN MARKETS: Soybeans end higher on rebound from one-week low

market

Soybeans turned higher in the closing minutes of Tuesday's trading after earlier falling to a one-week low. The gains were small and put the March futures in the middle of the previous day's lower range.

Corn tumbled after setting a six-month high in the overnight session, while lightly trade winter wheat largely followed corn lower.

The three crops have had good gains in the past week, with both corn and soybeans setting six-month highs then. Winter wheat set a four-month high a week ago.

Soybean export sales may slow as China will close during its new year celebrations that start on Friday and continue into early next week.

In other markets, equities were higher, with the Dow Jones Industrials up about 136 points when the crops closed. The dollar was a little higher but remained within the previous day's trading range. Crude oil was up about 50 cents a barrel in the early afternoon, while gold was about $7 lower.

Export highlights (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Reuters) included:

- On Tuesday, USDA said unknown destinations bought nearly 6 million bu. of soybeans, which included 3.78 million bu. of the 2016 harvest and 2.2 million bu. of the 2017 crop. Unknown destinations also bought 4.9 million bu. of 2016-17 corn.

- USDA said Mexico bought about 4.1 million bu. of soybeans that included 1.54 million bu. of the 2016 crop and about 2.6 million bu. of the 2017.

- Ethiopia seeks to buy 720,000 metric tons of optional-origin milling wheat, with offers due by Feb. 3. Shipment will be within three months of when letters of credit are opened, which could be March to May.

Corn set a six-month high overnight but could not stay there, and March closed down 1.6% for the day.

Corn export sales have been active for the past two weeks, including Tuesday's sale to unknown destinations. That business may slow as buyers shift to Argentina and Brazil, which will be harvesting soon. USDA earlier this month estimated Argentina's and Brazil's corn crops at 86.5 million and 36.5 million mt, respectively, unchanged from December.

One crop forecaster on Tuesday raised its estimate for 2017 U.S. corn acreage and lowered its soybean acreage from its previous forecasts.

The dollar value of corn at China's Dalian market for May was down slightly at $5.82/bu. European corn for March was firm at $4.65/bu. The prices reflect conversions from local currencies and metric tons.

The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) estimated Tuesday's corn volume at 282,820, compared with Monday's actual volume of 237,591. Open interest in Monday's market increased by 12,722, with March down 143 and May up 4,916.

March corn closed 6.25 cents lower at $3.6325/bu., and May was down 6 cents to $3.705.

What to look for: Corn was unable to hold above the 200-day moving average near $3.70/bu. and now is not far above support at the 20-day average near $3.58.

Soybeans made a swift turnaround in the final minutes of trading to close fractionally higher. March had dropped to last week's low but recovered to finish within Monday's range.

China's new year holiday, which starts on Friday, is on traders' minds. Also, rain in Brazil may slow the harvesting of that big soybean crop. Forecasts have rain there this week and next week. Argentina, which will harvest in March, is dry this week but may have a few showers next week.

China's soybeans for May delivery at the Dalian market were lower, at the equivalent of $16.71/bu.

CBOT estimated Tuesday's volume at 157,992, compared with Monday's actual volume of 152,288. Monday's open interest increased by 5,348 contracts, with March up 1,297 and May up 2,432.

March soybeans closed 0.75 cent higher at $10.585/bu., and May rose 1.25 cents to $10.68. New-crop November was up 0.75 cent at $10.26.

What to look for: Attention will be on South America, where Brazil is harvesting a huge soybean crop that will pull export business away from the U.S.

Wheat closed lower in light trading, largely following corn, with the largest losses in the soft red winter wheat.

Despite the lower close, soft red winter wheat stayed above a few key moving averages but remains a distance away from the 200-day resistance near $4.58. The export lineup for U.S. wheat is light. Ethiopia seeks optional-origin wheat in a tender that closes in early February.

For weather, the High Plains winter wheat areas are expected to be warm and dry for the next few days. The 6- to 10-day outlook also is mostly warm and dry.

CBOT estimated Tuesday's soft red winter wheat volume at 90,055, compared with Monday's actual volume of 83,007. Monday's open interest decreased by 490, with March down 1,298 and May up 1,362.

Chicago, Ill., March soft red winter wheat closed 6.5 cents lower at $4.2675/bu., and May was down 6 cents to $4.41. Kansas City, Mo., March hard red winter wheat dropped 3 cents to $4.4175/bu., and May slipped 3.25 cents to $4.5375. Spring wheat for March dropped 3.5 cents to $5.6025/bu., and May slipped a half-cent to $5.5675.

What to look for: It is a long way to the spring growing season, but the moisture now in the Plains could help winter wheat recover from the dry fall and early winter.

LIVESTOCK MARKETS: USDA forecasts higher dairy product prices

milk truck

Wholesale domestic prices for all major dairy products increased from November to December, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s January “Livestock, Dairy & Poultry Outlook.” While the butter price typically declines from November to December, the monthly average butter price rose the most, from $1.909 to $2.100/lb. December prices for cheese, nonfat dry milk (NDM) and dry whey were $1.799, 95.8 cents and 39.9 cents/lb., respectively — the highest monthly prices of the year.

Robust domestic demand likely contributed to the uptick in product prices, USDA said. In November, domestic commercial disappearance was substantially higher than in November 2015 for butter (3.8%), NDM (4.5%), American cheese (9.9%) and other-than-American cheese (3.5%). November year-over-year commercial disappearance for milk in all products increased by 5.1% on a milk-fat milk-equivalent basis and by 3.8% on a skim-solids milk-equivalent basis.

USDA reported that U.S. milk production continued to increase, totaling 17.1 billion lb. in November, up 2.4% from November 2015. Milk per cow averaged 1,829 lb. per head, 39 lb. above November 2015. Milk cows totaled 9.339 million head, 17,000 more than in November 2015 and 4,000 more than in October 2016.

November exports on a milk-fat basis were 870 million lb., an increase of 64 million lb. from October. USDA noted that, since Aug. 1, 2016, Canada has allowed temporary supplementary imports of butterfat products and cream — in addition to imports usually allowed under tariff-rate quotas — in order to alleviate shortages.

U.S. exports of cream with more than 10% milk fat rose from 1.2 million gal. in October to 2.0 million gal. in November, with about 90% of the exports going to Canada. Exports of butter in November were relatively strong at 5.1 million lb., with exports to Canada comprising 60% of the total. Exports on a skim-solids basis were 3.460 billion lb. in November, a decline of 107 million lb. from October but 674 million higher than November 2015.

According to USDA, robust domestic use and relatively strong exports caused stock levels to fall significantly from October to November.

Butter ending stocks decreased by 67 million lb., representing the largest one-month drop since September 1993 — a time when most butter stocks were owned by the U.S. government. November ending stocks of dairy products on a milk-fat basis were 13.7 billion lb., a decline of 1.8 billion from October but 900 million lb. higher than November 2015. November stocks on a skim-solids basis were 14.3 billion lb., 600 million less than October but 600 million lb. above November 2015.

International outlook

USDA is forecasting that the combined milk production of the top five major exporting countries -- Argentina, Australia, the European Union, New Zealand and the U.S. -- will grow at a modest rate of 1% in 2017. While U.S. milk production is expected to grow about 2% in 2017, growth rates of 0% and 1% are expected for the EU and New Zealand, respectively.

USDA said the U.S. is expected to face strong competition from the EU for cheese exports in 2017.

“After a setback in 2014 and 2015 due to a Russian trade ban, EU cheese exports are expected to total 1.808 billion lb. in 2016 and are forecasted to reach a record 1.819 billion lb. in 2017. A key issue facing the United States' export competitiveness with the EU is the strong dollar compared to the euro,” USDA reported.

Dairy forecasts for 2017

USDA's feed price outlook was changed little from last month's forecast. For 2016-17, the corn price forecast is $3.10-3.70/bu. -- an increase of 5 cents on both ends of the range -- and the soybean meal price forecast is unchanged at $305-345 per ton. The alfalfa hay price fell from $135 per ton in October to $130 in November.

USDA raised the forecast for milk cows for 2017 by 5,000 head to 9.365 million as higher milk prices and relatively low feed costs are expected to encourage greater expansion of the herd. Similarly, the forecast for milk per cow was raised to 23,185 lb. per head, an increase of 15 lb. These changes result in a milk production forecast of 217.1 billion lb. for the year, 300 million lb. more than last month's forecast.

On both a milk-fat and skim-solids basis, USDA left 2017 forecasts for imports unchanged from last month, at 7.0 billion and 6.2 billion lb., respectively. For exports, only small changes were made: 8.3 billion lb. on a milk-fat basis (down 100 million) and 40.2 billion lb. on a skim-solids basis (up 100 million).

Based on recent commercial disappearance data and a strengthening economy, the 2017 domestic use forecast was raised from last month's forecast to 215.0 billion lb. on a milk-fat basis (up 200 million) and to 183.5 billion lb. on a skim-solids basis (up 1.0 billion).

USDA lowered ending stock forecasts for 2017 to 13.2 billion lb. on a milk-fat basis (down 500 million) and 12.9 billion lb. on a skim-solids basis (down 300 million).

With higher demand expected, USDA raised its product price forecasts for butter, cheese, NDM and dry whey to $2.095-2.205, $1.675-1.755, $0.99-1.05 and 41.5-44.5 cents/lb., respectively.

Lower expected beginning stocks on a milk-fat basis will also support higher butter prices, USDA added. With higher dairy product prices, the agency raised the Class III and IV price forecasts to $16.35-17.15 and $15.25-16.15/cwt., respectively. The all-milk price forecast was raised to $17.60-18.40/cwt., compared to the forecast of $16.85-17.65 last month.

Farm programs don't translate into cheaper food

Kansas State University soybeans

According to a new study from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), “farm programs do not affect food prices in a direction that protects the poor, and the people whose incomes are most improved by farm policies are not the same people who are at risk of poverty and hunger.”

The study, authored by former U.S. Department of Agriculture chief economist Joseph Glauber, along with Daniel Sumner and Parke Wilde, investigates whether U.S. farm subsidy policies help the food consumption and nutritional well-being of low-income Americans.

Their research found that most farm subsidy programs have, “at most, small impacts on U.S. production of farm commodities, even though they may increase acreage and production of some crops relative to others.”

The report details how, for example, soybeans are mostly exported or used as livestock feed, so any impact on meat prices is indirect and very small. Even for livestock feed, much of the impact of subsidies would be to expand grain acres at the expense of hay or other forage acreage, “so the net impact on the cost of production of beef or milk, for example, is mixed. On net, the impact of these programs on U.S. consumer prices is tiny,” the report adds.

Farm subsidies do little for rural poverty in the long run and, thus, have only small impacts on food consumption and nutrition for vulnerable households, even with multiplier effects on non-farm employment and income opportunities. Food and income assistance are far more important than farm subsidies for poor rural households, the authors noted.

Likely the most significant finding is that farm subsidy policies may compete for budgetary support with federal nutrition assistance programs for the poor. “Government expenditures on farm subsidies may reduce spending on food programs that benefit the poor, especially SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) subsidies, school lunch subsidies and other food and nutrition programs in the USDA budget,” the report notes.

“Our bottom line is that, after reviewing many varied potential impacts and despite occasional claims to the contrary, farm subsidy programs have little impact on food consumption, food security or nutrition of the poor in the United States,” the report concludes.

Find the full report here.

Dog's diet shapes its gut microbiome

shutterstock Dachshund eating kibble

Studies of the gut microbiome have gone to the dogs — and pets around the world could benefit as a result. In a paper published this week in mBio, researchers from Nestle Purina PetCare Co. report that the ratio of proteins and carbohydrates in a canine's daily diet have a significant influence on the balance of microbes in its gut.

Among other findings, they observed that dogs fed a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet had decreases in the ratio of bacteroidetes to firmicutes bacteria as well as had enriched microbial gene networks associated with weight loss in humans. The microbial responses were more pronounced in obese and overweight dogs than in dogs of a healthy weight.

According to the American Society for Microbiology, which publishes mBio, the researchers said their study may help identify new microbiology-inspired strategies for managing pet obesity, which is a growing problem. More than half of pet dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese, according to the most recent annual survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. A comparison of those data with previous surveys suggests that obesity in dogs, as in people, is getting worse.

"We do believe dogs have become heavier over the last decade and that it's an epidemic," said study leader Johnny Li, a computational biologist at Nestle Purina in St. Louis, Mo. Li said he launched the new study because only a handful of previous studies have explored the gut microbiome of canines, and the effect of diet on gut microbes hasn't been well documented.

Studies on animals are lacking, but studies in people have connected microbial imbalance in the gut to a variety of conditions, including obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders and liver and brain diseases.

Li and his team studied 32 Labrador retrievers and 32 beagles, with equal numbers of lean and overweight or obese dogs. During the first four weeks, all of the dogs were fed the same baseline diet. During the second four weeks, half the dogs received a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, and the other half received a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet.

Fecal microbiome studies conducted after the first four weeks revealed few differences in the gut microbiomes of the dogs. Studies conducted after the second four weeks, after the dogs had eaten an experimental diet, showed dramatic changes in the microbiome. Dogs that ate a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet had higher abundances of Bacteroides uniformis and Clostridium butyricum.

In dogs that ate a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, the researchers observed a decrease in the ratio of bacteroidetes to firmicutes bacteria. They also reported that abundances of Clostridium hiranonis, Clostridium perfringens and Ruminococcus gnavus were more than double the abundances observed in the other experimental group.

Li said the effects of diet on the microbiome were more pronounced in obese and overweight dogs than in lean dogs. "That seems to suggest that obese dogs and overweight dogs are more susceptible to dietary intervention," he said. A different diet for those animals may have a greater impact on the bacterial balance in their guts.

The study involved only two breeds, but Li said the findings are likely applicable to all dog breeds, although "we need more studies on other breeds in the future to be sure."

Li said his team's study provides a framework to explore the connection between diet and gut microbes in dogs. Although the findings are preliminary, he said he hopes to see the research eventually translated into real-world ways to modify pet food, perhaps through the strategic use of probiotics or prebiotics, to reduce the obesity epidemic.

Lawmakers in House, Senate introduce death tax repeal bill

tax scrabble tiles with money behind

Members of Congress on both sides of aisle and both chambers took up the mantle of addressing estate tax reform by introducing bills to fully and permanently repeal the death tax.

On Tuesday, Reps. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) and Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.) introduced the bipartisan Death Tax Repeal Act of 2017 to fully and permanently repeal the death tax, while Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) reintroduced the companion version in the Senate.

According to a Joint Economic Committee report, the death tax has removed more than $1.1 trillion in capital from the economy while motivating family businesses and others to reduce savings and limit growth, Noem said in a statement.

“While we were still trying to pick up the pieces after my dad died in a farm accident, our family received a letter from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). Because of a tragedy that undermined our sense of security, the death tax was now about to undermine our financial security,” Noem said. “No family should have to go through what ours did, so I'm committed to seeing this tragedy tax finally repealed.”

Bishop has long led the charge to repeal the controversial tax in order to prevent farmers -- both in Georgia and nationwide -- from losing their family farms or being forced to sell much-needed land, buildings or equipment.

“I have always believed that the death tax is politically misguided, morally unjustified and downright un-American,” Bishop said. “It undermines the life work and the life savings of farmers and jeopardizes small- and medium-sized businesses in Georgia and across the nation.”

A previous version of Thune’s bill was adopted as part of the non-binding fiscal 2016 budget resolution.

“As if the long arm of the IRS isn’t intrusive enough during life, too often, the death tax punishes hard-working Americans even after they’ve passed away,” Thune said. “In an environment where it’s frequently too difficult and costly for family-owned farms to be passed from one generation to the next, we should be knocking down hurdles to find ways to incentivize families to retain these multi-generation businesses. Repealing the death tax would be a big step in the right direction. I’m committed to working as hard and as long as it takes to get rid of this onerous tax, and I’m glad so many of my colleagues are willing to take up this fight as well.”

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) added, “I am proud to join Sen. Thune in introducing the Death Tax Repeal Act, which will finally abolish this unfair tax, and I appreciate his leadership on this issue.”

The bills are supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, Associated Builders & Contractors, National Association of Manufacturers, National Federation of Independent Business, Americans for Tax Reform, Club for Growth, National Black Chamber of Commerce, International Franchise Assn., National Taxpayers Union, Family Business Coalition, Family Business Estate Tax Coalition and many others.