Is Irradiation of Pet Treats and Some Foods Causing Health Problems?


On the back of a bag of Waggin’ Train Jerky Tenders it reads “Made in China” on the bottom left, and on the bottom right is the green logo “TREATED BY IRRADIATION FOR FRESHNESS & HEALTH”. The contents look like strips of mummified, but very pink strips of flesh. The Ingredients label says its chicken breast plus vegetable glycerine and “natural flavor” (MSG or animal digest?). Chicken breast is normally white, no mention being made of any coloring agents being used.

The Organic Consumer Association notes that “The FDA based its approval of irradiation to treat meat products on only 5 animal studies of 441 studies submitted, and these 5 either showed health effects or had obvious scientific flaws. In fact, animal studies have shown many health effects, such as tumors, kidney failure, death of offspring and miscarriages”. Laboratory animal tests of the effects of irradiated food have reported embryonic deaths & lower offspring survival: internal bleeding (associated with Vitamin K deficiency); nutritional muscular dystrophy (associated with Vitamin E deficiency). Irradiated foods contain novel free radicals and other compounds with the potential to cause mutations and cancer, and the process can damage essential nutrients such as Vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B3, B6 & folic acid. (

The government may also be under pressure from food manufacturers to ignore rather than trigger renewed public concern over this (mummified) food irradiation technology that the meat industry in particular wants to see approved in the U.S. because of the continued problems with bacterial contamination and costly recalls following mass outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in the consumer public.

A scientist who discovered a connection between irradiation of pet food and deaths in cats is calling for a ban on the process for animal food. ( Eugene Bingham, May 23 2021 writes: “Dr Georgina Child made a link between batches of cat food treated with gamma irradiation and the deaths and neurological damage to dozens of cats in Australia in 2009. “It was one of the saddest episodes I have seen in my career as a neurologist and one that was very difficult to attract attention to at the time – and I hope I never see the equivalent again,” says Child, a veterinary neurologist based in Sydney, Australia. “More than 35 cats died or were euthanized and many others had permanent neurologic deficits.” After the cat food scare, Biosecurity Australia required irradiated dog food to carry a warning that it shouldn’t be fed to cats.”

For a detailed review of this issue of pet food irradiation, see Cats susceptible to neurological problems when fed irradiated diets. Australian outbreak is the latest of at least three June 8, 2009 (published) By Edie Lau “Child told The VIN News Service by e-mail that all the cats had eaten an imported dry diet, sold under the brand name Orijen and made in Canada by Champion Petfoods. The food was subject to gamma irradiation upon entry to Australia at levels greater than or equal to 50 kilo-Grays (kGy).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also allows animal feed, including pet food and treats, to be irradiated up to 50 kGy. By comparison, most human foods in the United States allowed to be irradiated are limited to levels of 30 kGys and below. Packaged meats for astronauts are an exception; those may be treated up to 44 kGy.

The FDA requires all irradiated foods to be labeled as such; Australia does not require labels on irradiated pet food.

Symptoms in the Australian cats first appeared three to six months after they were exposed to the dry food, Child said. Some had eaten the food for as few as three weeks; others for more than six months. Most of the cats were fed other foods, as well. The affected cats ranged in age from less than one year to 15 years.

Early signs of illness included a wobbly gait, unwillingness to jump onto sofas or beds, and loss of balance exhibited, for example, by falling off tables, according to a Q&A for consumers prepared by Champion Petfoods.

Child said about half of the affected cats remain paraparetic or tetraparetic; some remain paraplegic or tetraplegic. “Many cats have been at their worst for two or more months before showing any improvement,” she said, noting that fewer than one-fifth have recovered fully.

Child said histopathology showed “diffuse, symmetric, severe white matter degeneration of predominantly the spinal cord but also (the) brain stem and cerebrum, with demyelination the predominant feature.”

“No specific treatment has resulted in an improvement in the outcome of affected cats,” she said. “A change in diet, nursing care, physiotherapy and time seem to be the only factors common in recovered cats.”

But even patients who are paralyzed and lose vision as a result of eating irradiated food can fully recover, given sufficient time, nursing care and food that hasn’t been irradiated, said Dr. Ian Duncan, professor of neurology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

That’s what Duncan saw with cats housed in a private laboratory in Wisconsin that were fed irradiated diets. The irradiation was meant to help keep the cats — known as “specific pathogen-free” or SPF cats — from unwittingly acquiring infections.

In that episode, which was reported this spring in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (“Extensive remyelination of the CNS leads to functional recovery,” PNAS, March 30, 2009, Duncan I.D. et al.), the food was irradiated at levels of 25 to 50 kGy.

The symptoms took about four months to appear, and they abated after another two to four months once the cats were given a non-irradiated diet. Altogether, about 30 cats were affected, and most made impressive recoveries, Duncan said.

Oddly, only cats that became pregnant while on the irradiated diet developed neurological symptoms, he noted. Male cats and offspring exposed to the same diet did not become ill. Male cats have been affected elsewhere, however.In the Irish case, 190 domestic short-hair cats housed together developed hind limb ataxia and proprioceptive defects during a period of four years, from 1998 to 2001 (“Leukoencephalomyelopathy in Specific Pathogen-free Cats,” J.P. Cassidy et al., Vet Pathol 2007; 44:912-916). As with the Wisconsin colony, those animals were SPF specific pathogen-free) research cats.