[back] Food Irradiation

Cat food firm blames deaths on quarantine controls


Kelly Burke Consumer Affairs Reporter
November 28, 2008

THE Canadian manufacturer at the centre of a local pet food scare caused by paralysis in more than 40 cats has placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Australian Government.

In a statement released yesterday, Champion Petfoods, of Alberta, said it was pulling out of the Australian market after independent tests from a US laboratory on its Orijen brand of cat food showed that dangerous levels of irradiation mandated by the Australian Government appeared to be to blame for the outbreak of serious illness among Australian cats.

Five animals have so far had to be put down, although it is believed a number of cats in other states were also destroyed before the link to the Orijen brand of food had been made.

The company, which exports to 50 countries, said only Australia demanded its pet food be irradiated because Orijen was not highly processed or cooked at the same high temperatures as most other imported pet foods.

Citing a US study last year which found that levels between 36 and 47 kiloGrays of Cobalt 60 gamma rays were linked to neurological symptoms similar to those found in the affected Australian cats, the pet food company said the minimum level of 50 kGYs demanded by the Australian Government for the imported product was clearly excessive, and had possibly led to a serious depletion of vitamin A.

The only human foods approved for irradiation in Australia are imported herbs and spices, ranging from 10 to 30 kGYs, and tropical fruit, irradiated at no more than 1 kGY.

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry said Australia required all dry and semi-dried pet food to be either heat-treated or irradiated and Orijen was just one of a number of pet food manufacturers that exported to Australia.

"No other manufacturer has reported any similar issues," he said.

The Sydney cat neurologist who first identified the link between the pet food and the outbreak of illness in the local cat population, Dr Georgina Child, was sceptical of the company's claims.

"There is nothing to suggest any of the cats I have seen are vitamin A deficient and while all the cats have eaten Orijen, most have also eaten a variety of other foods," she said.

The study quoted by the company was based on the findings of just eight cats and concluded that further research was required to support any link between vitamin A depletion, irradiation and neurological illness, Dr Child said.