A recent story in the Sydney Morning Herald announced that Australia had banned cat food irradiation.
The Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke, has ordered the controversial sterilisation process, which has been in place for more than a decade, to cease immediately, following compelling overseas evidence that some cats can suffer fatal neurological damage after eating irradiated dry food.
Dogs do not appear to be affected by similarly treated food.
About 90 cats fell ill last year and 30 died before a Sydney vet, Georgina Child, made the link in November between the mystery illness and a brand of Canadian gourmet pet food called Orijen.
So what's happening? Why is irradiation killing animals?
For more information I dug up a Consumer Release from Champion Petfoods on the problem.
They say the problem is Vitamin A defeciency. Irradiation, it turns out, destroys Vitamin A.
This affects cats more than dogs because cats, being obligate carnivores, can't synthesize their own Vitamin A but must get it in the already already synthesized version such as is found in animal livers. Interestingly, cats are also quite resistant to Vitamin A toxicity.
Champion Petfoods also lays blame to the creation of free radicals.
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.
The cats are dying from consuming irradiated foods. What does that mean for the rest of us?
Fat is one of our most important food groups (except trans of course). Meat, a source of saturated and unsaturated fats, is a primary target of irradiation. In addition to vitamin A, some studies have shown B, C, E and Niacin are all depleted by irradiation as well.
Once again, the cat has been our canary. People have been up in arms about irradiation for a long time. Now that we have casualties, let's pay some closer attention to the criers.