Irradiation of pet food imported into Australia

I’m often asked if pet foods are irradiated when imported into Australia. The answer isn’t straight forward, so if you’re concerned stick to Australian (or New Zealand) pet food brands.

RADURA logo ~ found on irradiated products

RADURA logo ~ found on irradiated products in the US, but not required in Australia

RSPCA calls for a ban on all irradiated pet meat

The standpoint of the RSPCA, and of Pet Food Reviews Australia, is irradiation of all pet foods and pet meats should be banned (or the food in question not imported).

The RSPCA submission to the Senate (July 2018) requests for a formal ban on all irradiated pet food products. Their reasons are as follows:

“Both in Australia and overseas, dogs have developed severe kidney disease as a result of eating imported jerky treats which has resulted in the deaths of a number of pets. The treats are made in China and are postulated to contain an unidentified toxic substance that results in a kidney disease called acquired renal tubulopathy, also known as Fanconi syndrome. These treats have never been subject to a recall and are still widely sold and distributed throughout Australia. As a result, cases of Fanconi syndrome linked to pet treats continue to be reported by veterinarians across Australia. Many of the companies producing these treats are not members of the PFIAA and do not comply with the standards. Further restrictions should be placed on imported treats until their safety can be assured.”

The RSPCA submission for the Safety of Pet Food may be read here.

What is irradiation?

Irradiation is a process used to sterialise or decontaminate a food to ensure it’s free of bacteria and pests. Australian quarantine rules are strict, with good reason, but irradiation can alter aspects of a food including nutritional quality, taste, appearance, and texture.

Irradiation is linked to severe neurological impairment

In 2009 irradiation of cat food was banned after a scientific study showed a connection with irradiated food and severe neurological impairment in cats, in some cases fatal.

The ban does not apply to dog food.

Irradiation of human food is allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at a maximum level of 30 kGrays, with packaged meats for astronauts being an exception up to 44 kGrays. Pet food imported into Australia can be treated with a significantly higher level of irradiation over 50 kGrays.

An article on VIN news entitled Cats susceptible to neurological problems when fed irradiated diets dated 8 June 2009 details the findings of neurologist Dr. Georgina Child, with symptoms affecting 90 cats within Australia of which 30 died.

Not all foods require irradiation

Australia’s Quarantine Act of 1908 gives the Department of Agriculture (DAFF) the responsibility of preventing the introduction, establishment, and spread of diseases. For each permit sought by a pet food importer, DAFF are required to assess the quarantine risk under the Quarantine Proclamation of 1998.

Each permit is assessed on an individual basis, and a number of factors are taken into account. The main factors are as follows:

» The country of origin and manufacturer.

» The ingredients and where they are sourced.

» The type of food and the levels of heat treatment the food has undergone.

If DAFF Biosecurity are satisfied the food is low risk then irradiation isn’t necessary, which is great, but if there’s any reason for concern then irradiation is certainly a possibility.

If a food is believed a quarantine risk, irradiation is “optional”

Yes, that’s right. If DAFF Biosecurity see a food as a quarantine risk, then having it “gamma irradiated on arrival at 50 kGrays” is an option for the importer. But if health risks of irradiation are a possibility, why would an importer choose to have the food irradiated?

This is the reason »

If a product is identified as a quarantine risk, then requirements must be met before a permit is granted. This is obtained by a desk audit of the manufacturing facility at the importer’s cost, and a potential audit of the entire site. However, if the importer chooses for the food to be irradiated then the audit requirement can be waived.

Audit requirements may alternatively be waived under the following conditions, as set out in the DAFF regulations (Enclosure 5: Pet Food Import Requirements – DAFF Biosecurity):

» Products that contain animal material that has been derived from and manufactured in New Zealand.

» Products manufactured and exported from the USA or Canada, where the manufacturing facility has been approved by the appropriate government body in that country.

Tips & Advice

Regulations state an irradiated dog food is to be labelled with “must not be fed to cats”. If you find that written on your dog food packaging then it’s a telltale sign the food has been irradiated.

Make sure you are aware of the country of origin of the product, and if this is uncertain it is best to avoid. Pet food products from China have historically been proven to cause harm.

Small print on packaging may state “Made in China”, “Made in PRC” (Peoples Republic of China), “Product of China”, or similar country. Many products hide the origin, instead claiming to be “Packaged in Australia”.

The RADURA logo (the pleasant green logo at the top of the page) is required on all irradiated products in the US, but is not required in Australia.

Related information

» Cat-food irradiation banned as pet theory proved ~ Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 2009

» Cats susceptible to neurological problems when fed irradiated diets ~ VIN News Network, 8 June 2009

» Pet Food Import Requirements – DAFF Biosecurity (Word document)

» RSPCA positional statement on Pet Food regulations (PDF document)

» RSPCA Australia’s position on the irradiation of imported pet food products

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