Sunday, November 23, 2008

Orijen Dry Cat Food Linked to Illness/Death in Australia

A number of cats in Australia have become ill and some have died. Orijen brand cat food is apparently the only thing these cats have in common:
A cat neurologist, Georgina Child, has put down five cats over the past week and treated or consulted with other vets about more than a dozen others suffering from paralysis.
First symptoms included wobbliness or weakness in the animal's hind legs, which could then progress to the front limbs. The condition did not appear to be infectious, Dr Child said, nor typical of a nutritional deficiency.
I hope they are able to determine the cause definitively and I'll post more information as I come across it.


Anonymous said...

Champion Pet Foods published an update to the alert on their website today. The issue was excessive irradiation of the food (since it has fresh meats cooked at low temps, they had to comply). Their press release cited irradiation studies with similar symptomatic results. They will no longer be shipping to Australia. And yes, the problem is localized there.

YesBiscuit! said...

Thanks. I have posted an update. They seemed to be pretty spot on with the initial hypothesis that the problem was linked to irradiation although I admit I was skeptical. Seems the radiation levels used were very high.

Anonymous said...

Gamma irradiation was carried out on the food as a quarantine measure prior to entry to Australia. The exact mechanism causing the paralysis is not known but published studies corroborate the results seen in the Australian cats and as a result irradiation of cat food in Australia has been ceased. Champion claimed they were not aware that irradiation had been carried out prior to the food being released onto the market.
Peter Muhlenfeld of Champion Petfoods spoke to one owner by phone and claimed they did not find out about the irradiation until August 2008. Posts by Champion sales staff on online pet chat forums claimed the same.
However documents obtained by an Australian investigator from the Australian Government under the Freedom of Information Act show that their importer told Champion about the irradiation in August 2007 and got their consent to irradiate.
Media reports often talk about Australian Quarantine "demanding" or "requiring" the food to be gamma irradiated and Champion played on this during media interviews and releases. This is not the case. It is offered as an OPTION. The alternatives are further moist heat treatment (which might not always be appropriate) or just don't bother importing it into Australia unless the food is cooked to 100 deg C for 30 minutes during manufacture. The importer (and by implication Champion, since he claims to have corresponded with them to obtain their blessing for the irradiation) were given written warnings to take independent advice as to whether irradiation would be suitable for the product before going ahead as are ALL importers. They didn't bother. Only AFTER the trouble arose did they irradiate samples themselves and run tests. They took over 2 months to recall the food even though the balance of probability was that it was their food causing paralysis and deaths in the cats as it was the only common denominator in all cases and no cat presenting with the issues had NOT been fed Orijen. Meanwhile owners, kept unaware, continued to buy and feed the product. They are failing to meet all the expenses of the affected owners and are failing to communicate with them in anything like a timely or transparent manner. Quite simply, Champion Petfoods, by their own admission, failed to do due diligence prior to entering the Australian market. But they were quick to run tests afterwards in an attempt to point the finger of blame at Australia's government for the devastation caused to the cats and their owners.
They are still failing to meet all the expenses of the affected owners and are failing to communicate with them in anything like a timely or transparent manner. All this highlights the need for independent regulation of the pet food industry, which is currently self-regulated by companies more intent on protecting their bottom line rather than the pet owning consumers whose interests they proclaim to have at heart.