The rumors that beet pulp is heavily contaminated with harmful chemicals are flat wrong. Most of these allegations appear to be based on incomplete information. Others seem to be trumped-up suspicions.
The most prominent claim is that solvents are used in the extraction of sugar from beets. This belief likely arose from folks who don’t fully understand beet-pulp processing.
When beets come into the sugar plants, they’re mechanically scrubbed to remove dirt, cut into shreds and dumped into hot water. The sugar easily leaches out of the beets into the water, which is then carried off. The remaining pulp is pressed then dried. That’s it. No chemicals are used in the step that generates beet pulp.
The second claim is that beet pulp contains high levels of pesticides. This statement is an exaggeration. We found no reported pesticide residues in beet pulp in the appropriate database maintained by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
By comparison, residues of 13 pesticides have been found in alfalfa, 17 in barley straw and hay, 25 in barley, 28 in whole dried soybeans and 22 in wheat straw, among others. Permissible levels of pesticide residues in animal feeds and human foods are regulated by law. Beet pulp is no more likely to contain them than anything else you feed your horse.
Even feeds certified as organic likely contain pesticide residues. In California, one of the most proactive environmentally conscious states, crops may still contain up to 5% of the EPA tolerance levels or FDA action levels and still be called organic. In fact, that level may one day be raised to 10% due to contamination of land and water.
What You Need To Know
Everything you feed your horse contains herbicide or pesticide residues. Feeding organic feeds and hay may minimize this exposure, but it’s difficult to find certified organic feeds and hays. And, if you do, they’re expensive. Frankly, even if you go that route, pesticide, herbicide, solvent and other chemical traces remain in your water, in ponds, and on your pastures, even if you don’t use them yourself.