Canaries in the Mine

OrijenFor those of us still sensitized to the pet food debacle of 2007, in which thousands of dogs and cats died or were sickened by food adulterated with melamine from China, it appeared to be déjà vu this past week with reports of cats in Australia who were sick or dying. The symptoms included a weakness in the hind legs which eventually progressed to paralysis and in some cases, death.

A common thread in the deaths was the feeding of Orijen kibble, a high-end pet food produced by Champion Pet Foods in Canada.

Their products for cats and dogs are highly regarded for their use of fresh local ingredients, prepared at low temperatures with thoughtfully researched holistic additives. By contrast, most commercial pet food is largely meal, by-products or worse, with the nutrients cooked out at high temperatures.

The problem was that the Orijen kibble was too good. Because their fresh meats are cooked at low temperatures, the Australian government required that the kibble be irradiated with Cobalt 60 gamma rays. This was a precaution to reduce microbial hazards, which was not required for other commercial pet foods.

Food irradiation is becoming a common practice. In this case, though, the cats of Australia were the canaries in the mine.

Irradiation is commonly applied to human foods at doses between 5 – 10 kGY. The Orijen kibble, however, was subjected to levels reaching 61 kGY. Studies have shown that cats fed dry food subjected to irradiation levels between 36 – 47 kGY developed neurological symptoms similar to those who reportedly ate the irradiated Orijen kibble.

What does irradiation do?

It depletes Vitamin A (and who knows what other nutrients).
It promotes the formation and release of destructive free radicals.

The jury is still out on what’s really going on. Tests point to irradiation, but an Australian veterinary neurologist says that identification of the problem could take up to six months.

Unlike the folks at Menu Foods and their ilk, who did their best to avoid taking responsibility for the pet holocaust of 2007 (and particularly Paul Henderson, CEO, who failed to convince us that he felt our pain, and Mark Wiens, CFO, who dumped his stock a week or so before the news hit – a horrible coincidence), the folks at Champion Pet Foods were on this issue right away. They took ownership of the problem, were forthcoming with their ongoing investigation, provided information to help with the recovery of pets who had fallen ill, and are in a continuing active dialogue with concerned pet parents.

They will no longer export to the Australian market because of the irradiation risks, but they have huge fans in North America and Europe.

And the food irradiation lobbyists have a whole lot of ‘splain’ to do.

As of today, 80 cats are sick or have died, that we know of. One would be too many.

Champion Pet Foods press release

Orijen Cat

More on the pet food recall.


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