Is Your Pet’s Food Irradiated?

Bowl of dog kibble with small person figure with radiation suit

Imagine, if you will, the future as envisioned by the budding food irradiation industry. American families will sit down to a dinner where the bread, meat, fruit, and vegetables before them have been preserved by exposing them to nuclear radiation. The molecular structure of this food has been changed in ways that scientists are in serious disagreement as to whether human health will be harmed. At the very least, the vitamin content has been diminished. If the food contains botulism or other spoilage that would otherwise be noticeable by smell, irradiation would have eliminated the odor, allowing the consumer to be poisoned without warning. If the treated food is labeled at all, it will have a cheery, flowerlike, symbol rather than any meaningful words that inform consumers of the process to which their food has been exposed.1

-Representative Douglas Bosco (D-Calif)  The Congressional Record, February 4, 1987

Food is irradiated behind a 20 foot thick concrete wall in a building peppered with signs warning Danger: Radiation Area. Once the foods are behind those doors, they are exposed to about 2,500 times the dose of a typical chest x-ray, a level high enough to kill humans 150 times over. It kills by destroying living tissue.

When food is exposed to radiation, the same happens. Atomic bonds break apart and reorganize, becoming an entirely different biological product. And you may never know the food was irradiated.

Unlike food produced for human consumption, there are no laws that require pet food to be labeled as irradiated.

Defending Food Irradiation

The FDA defends food irradiation by stating the food itself is not radioactive. This implies it’s safe to eat but this isn’t the case. In 2009, Australia banned cat food irradiation. This decision came on the heels of 90 cats falling ill and 30 cats dying from imported pet food. At the time, all imported foods were required to be irradiated. Champion Pet Foods, the manufacturer of the imported product published a Consumer Report stating there were no sick cats eating the exact same food in the US and Canada.

How did the irradiated food kill those cats?

The answer was evidently vitamin A deficiency. It seems that irradiation destroys vitamin A. This is the reason why only cats became sick on the food: dogs have the ability to synthesize their own vitamin A but cats, being obligate carnivores, can’t. Interestingly, cats are normally quite resistant to vitamin A toxicity.

Champion Pet Foods also blamed free radicals for the illness.

“When irradiation is applied to food, the molecular structure of long chain fatty acids (DHA, EPA) is altered. This causes the formation of free radicals that are then released into the body. ORIJEN CAT foods contain very high levels of EPA and DHA unsaturated fatty acids and therefore have a much greater potential for free radical formation (in response to irradiation) than do conventional dry cat foods. “

Nearly all chicken jerky treats imported from China are irradiated, including Waggin Train.

There are numerous problems with irradiation

◾ Even at low doses, some irradiated foods lose 20% of vitamins such as C, E, K, and B complex. Because irradiation breaks down the food’s cell walls, accelerated vitamin losses occur during storage–up to 80%. Ironically, irradiation both creates harmful free radicals and destroys the antioxidant vitamins necessary to fight them.

◾ When electron beams are used, trace amounts of radioactivity may be created. In Europe, food irradiation has been used to camouflage spoiled seafood. Consumers should ask, “Why is the food suddenly so dirty that it has to be irradiated?”

◾ Ionizing radiation knocks electrons out of atoms and creates free radicals. These free radicals react with food components, creating new radiolytic products, some of which are toxic (benzene, formaldehyde, lipid peroxides) and some of which may be unique to irradiated foods. No one knows the long term impact of eating unknown quantities of these damaged foods. Studies on animals fed irradiated foods have shown increased tumors, reproductive failures and kidney damage. Chromosomal abnormalities occurred in children from India who were fed freshly irradiated wheat.

◾ In Georgia, radioactive water escaped from an irradiation facility; the taxpayers were stuck with $47 million in cleanup costs. In New Jersey, radioactive water was poured into drains that emptied into the public sewer system. Few communities want the increased risks of hosting irradiation facilities and the periodic transport of radioactive materials to and from irradiators. Numerous worker exposures have occurred worldwide.

◾ Irradiation doesn’t kill all bacteria; those that survive are radiation-resistant. Eventually these bacteria will require higher doses of radiation. Irradiation doesn’t kill the bacterium that causes botulism, or viruses. It can’t be used on dairy products, a major source of food poisoning. If the labels are removed, irradiation will be used very widely because producers will ‘follow the leader’ and irradiate to prevent themselves from liability for food poisoning, no matter how remote the possibility. The costs, as always, will be passed on to the consumer.

◾ In a 1997 CBS nationwide poll, 77% of US consumers did not want irradiated food. This public resistance is why food trade associations have been plotting to eliminate all requirements for labeling irradiated food. Irradiation is not the only option for providing clean and sustainable food. Cleaning up filthy slaughter houses, slowing down processing lines, increasing the number of federal meat inspectors, and encouraging local and organic agriculture instead of factory farming are just a few proposals that can lead to long-term food safety solutions without the risks of irradiation.

From Dr. Gayle Eversole, PhD, ND
Make sure that the food you are feeding your pet is not irradiated. Don’t trust the label, pick up the phone and call. Don’t expect the right answer however. The bag of food might not be irradiated but its ingredients might have been and the manufacturer may not be aware of this. Once again, the safest approach is to prepare your dog’s food at home with ingredients you can trust.

Abstracts: [from the public archives of the National Library of Medicine]

1) Micronucleus test in mice fed on an irradiated diet.
Jpn J Vet Res 1989 Apr;37(2):41-7
Endoh D, Hashimoto N, Sato F, Kuwabara M.
A mutagenicity study was carried out in mice fed on a gamma-irradiated diet. As an indicator of mutagenic activity, we observed an incidence of micronuclei in erythrocytes. The average body weight of the mice fed on the diet irradiated to dose range of 400-1,000 kGy decreased, and the mice fed on the 800-1,000 kGy-irradiated diet died during the period from 8 to 14 days after the start of feeding. On the other hand, when the mutagenic activity of the irradiated diet was tested by observing occurrence of micronucleus in erythrocytes, no significant increase was recognized. These results indicated that the irradiated diet had no mutagenic activity, even though it possessed a toxic effect on the growth of mice. PMID: 2779058 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

2) Genetic effects of feeding irradiated wheat to mice.
Can J Genet Cytol 1976 Jun;18(2):231-8
The effects of feeding irradiated wheat in mice on bone marrow and testis chromosomes, germ cell numbers and dominant lethal mutations were investigated. Feeding of freshly irradiated wheat resulted in significantly increased incidence of polyploid cells in bone marrow, aneuploid cells in testis, reduction in number of spermatogonia of types A, B and resting primary spermatocytes as well as a higher mutagenic index. Such a response was not observed when mice were fed stored irradiated wheat. Also there was no difference between the mice fed un-irradiated wheat and stored irradiated wheat. PMID: 990994 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

3) Chromosome studies on bone marrow cells of Chinese hamsters fed a radiosterilized diet.
Toxicology 1977 Oct;8(2):213-22
Renner HW.
Metaphase preparations of chromosomes from bone marrow cells of Chinese hamsters were examined for mutagenic effects following the feeding of a radiosterilized diet. No increase in the incidence of structural chromosomal aberrations was observed. As far as numerical aberrrations were concerned, the proportion of cells with polyploidy increased to between 4 to 5 times the control level, irrespective of the moisture content of the diet. This polyploidy effect occurred very early, being detectable within 24 h, if the diet fed had been irradiated with an absorbed dose of 4.5 – 10(6) rad. The incidence of polyploidy remained below 0.5%, however, nor did it rise with higher radiation doses. When the feeding of the irradiated diet was stopped, the proportion of polyploid cells returned to the control level within a maximum of 6 weeks. If the diet was stored (initially) for 6 weeks following irradiation before being fed to the animals no increase in the number of polyploid cells was noted. These results are not interpreted as a mutagenic effect of the irradiated diet. PMID: 929628 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

4) Irradiated laboratory animal diets: dominant lethal studies in the mouse.
Mutat Res 1981 Feb;80(2):333-45
Anderson D, Clapp MJ, Hodge MC, Weight TM.
In 4 separate dominant lethal experiments groups of mice of either Charles River CD1 or Alderley Park strains were fed laboratory diets (Oakes, 41B, PRD, BP nutrition rat and mouse maintenance diet No. 1). The diets were either untreated (negative control diets) or irradiated at 1, 2.5 and 5 megarad and were freshly irradiated, or stored. The animals were fed their test diets for a period of 3 weeks prior to mating. Groups of mice given a single intraperitoneal injection of 200 mg cyclophosphamide per kg body weight served as the positive controls. Freshly irradiated PRD diet fed to male mice of both strains caused an increase in early deaths in females mated to the males in week 7 and to a lesser extent in week 4. The increase due to irradiation was small by comparison with that produced by the positive control compound. The responses for the other irradiated diets showed no significant increases in early deaths although some values for Oakes diet were high. The effect of storage was examined with PRD and BPN diet on one occasion and produced conflicting results. Thus there was some evidence that irradiated PRD diet has weak mutagenic activity in the meiotic and/or pre-meiotic phase of the spermatogenic cycle which appeared to be lessened on storage; the inclusion of such a diet in toxicological studies would therefore need to be carefully considered. PMID: 7207489 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

5) The effect of ionizing irradiation on sensory changes in feed in relation to their utilization by dogs
Vet Med (Praha) 1985 Dec;30(12):739-48, [Article in Czech]
Smid K, Dvorak J, Hrusovsky J.
To evaluate the effect of ionizing radiation on sensory changes of feeds in relation to their utilization by dogs, four groups of experimental animals were formed. Two groups were fed a ration where the main component (meat feed mixture VETACAN and loose feed mixture VETAVIT) was irradiated by radioisotope Co 60 at the dose of 25 kGy/kg for the period of 90 days. In the remaining two groups a non-irradiated ration was used for the same period. For both diets, control groups of dogs were formed and the feed ration was biologically fortified by a vitamin-mineral supplement to the physiological standard. It followed from the observations that the effect of radiation caused a significant qualitative decrease in the level of energy nutrients, particularly in the protein and lipid sphere. It is assumed that the extent of damage of lipid fraction is also accompanied by deficient vitamin activity and further by significant changes of taste and aromatic properties felt by animals. Irradiation of the feed ration caused a significant 20 to 25% decrease of food intake with a subsequent decrease of live weight and deterioration of physical condition. Irradiated diets without biological fortification caused significant losses of weight from the initial value mean = 39.5 kg to mean = 35.33 kg, in comparison with the non-irradiated rations through which the live weight was stabilized, and at biological fortification positively influenced. Irradiation of the feed ration during the period of study had not caused a response of the organism displayed in changes of physiological values of body temperature and heart and respiration rates in experimental animals. Radiosterilization of feeds had not caused any significant decrease of training ability and performance of dogs. PMID: 3937317 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

6) Immune response in rats given irradiated wheat.
Br J Nutr 1978 Nov;40(3):535-41
1. Rats given diets containing freshly-irradiated wheat showed significantly lower mean antibody titres to four different antigens, decreased numbers of antibody-forming cells in the spleen and rosette-forming lymphocytes as compared to rats given either unirradiated wheat or irradiated wheat stored for a period of 12 weeks. 2. The immune response in rats given 90 g protein/kg diet was essentially similar to that seen in animals given 180 g protein/kg diet. PMID: 568934 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

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