Irradiation now being explored as a culprit in pet deaths linked to chicken jerky treats
flickr photo by andyarthur
The Food and Drug Administration officials have issued the first summary of reports of pet deaths linked to chicken jerky treats since 2010, and a telling statement will cause pet owners to take notice if previous cautions from the organization haven't created some doubt in their minds as to the safety of the treats, imported from China.
Claims of illnesses tied to the products have topped 2,200, officials indicate.
So far, about 360 dogs are thought to have died as a direct result of eating the chicken jerky, as well as one cat.
The FDA is reminding pet owners that jerky pet treats are not necessary for pets to have a fully balanced diet, so eliminating them will not harm pets. Commercially produced pet food, which is very safe, contains all of the nutrients that pets need.
You'll remember that in March, I reported that the The Food and Drug Administration had cautioned pet owners about feeding chicken jerky, and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association had voiced some concern about feeding the treats imported from China to dogs after pet owners and veterinarians reported illnesses likened to Fanconi syndrome and even death after eating them.
Fanconi syndrome causes kidney dysfunction, and results in different complications, which should be taken seriously.
After years of testing, the FDA is still having a hard time honing in on what is killing pets when it comes to these treats.
The agency's standard protocol is to test for bacterial contamination, mold and chemicals like those used in antifreeze, resins and plastics. Heavy metals are on their list of things to test for, as well as melamine and melamine analogs that were detected in pet foods that caused illness and death in thousands of animals in 2007 (the catalyst for the largest pet food recall in history).
But now an interesting — and unusual — theory that may shed some light on the mystery is being explored.
The FDA is seeking the expertise of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to talk about the possibility of irradiation being the culprit in the pet deaths. NASA has studied the effects of irradiated food.
Irradiation is nothing new to the human and pet food industry. The practice is used to eliminate pathogens and microbes and to control spoilage, and varying levels of irradiation are used for different foods.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, foods for human consumption are limited to 1 kiloGray (kGy) for fresh foods and 3 kGy for fresh shell eggs (to eliminate Salmonella) and poultry. Frozen, uncooked meats have a higher limit, which is 7 kGy. Frozen packaged meats for astronauts can be irradiated at levels up to 44 kGy.
Regulations in this country allow pet food and treats to be treated up to a maximum of 50 kGy.
By all accounts the practice is deemed safe and even necessary to stave off foodborne illness.
Interestingly, the Australian government banned the use of irradiation in pet food in 2009 after a number of cats died or were sickened after eating irradiated cat food. According to Veterinary Information Network, these cats suffered neurological damage after consuming the food over a period of months.
As more information on this very perplexing issue becomes available, rest assured that we will have updates here on the pets section.