The Safety of Irradiation In Pet Food and Treats

At Tail Blazers we do not approve or carry any food or treats that have been irradiated, also called “ionizing radiation.” To irradiate something means to expose food to a high dose of energy ionizing radiation using Gamma rays, X-rays or electron beam radiation in the attempt to prevent food poisoning by reducing the level of parasites and harmful bacteria; to prevent spoilage by destroying bacteria, moulds and yeast, and to increase shelf life by slowing the ripening of fresh fruits and vegetables. (1) Another goal or irradiation is to kill bugs in product.

The governments of both Canada and the US claim that irradiation is very safe and that it does not change the physical characteristics of food or cause harm. There is A LOT of information out there, and concern, to the contrary, very scary and alarming info!

The deep concerns and questions that I, and many, have with this process are many, including is it safe for pets and people consume? Many studies point to no. There are no studies of the long-term effects of irradiation on the human body or on pet bodies. Irradiation is being tested on laboratory animals in high dose and they have found that lab animals that ate irradiated foods have been documented as having serious health problems including premature death, mutation, reproductive problems, tumours and suppressed immune function (3).

Only certain foods have been approved and are “permitted” to be irradiated in Canada, and those are: onions, potatoes, wheat, flour, whole wheat flour, and whole or ground spices and dehydrated seasonings.

There are others being evaluated for irradiation approval and those are fresh and frozen ground beef, fresh and frozen poultry, fresh and frozen shrimp, prawns and mangos.

Any imported irradiated food must also be approved for irradiation in Canada and must comply with all relevant regulations, including labelling requirements. Canadian government regulations require all foods processed by irradiation be labeled with an international symbol for irradiation with the words “treated by irradiation”, “treated with radiation” or “irradiated”. This is from the Canadian Produce Marketing Association website (

In Canada, pre-packaged foods which contain more than 10 per cent irradiated ingredients are required to bear this symbol, but those with less than 10 per cent irradiated ingredients don’t need to be labeled. Yikes!

Irradiation in Pet Food

In the United States the list of approved irradiated foods is longer than the Canadian list and includes:

Beef and pork, crustaceans (e.g., lobster, shrimp, and crab), fresh fruits and vegetables, lettuce and spinach, molluscan shellfish (e.g., oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops), poultry, seeds for sprouting (e.g., for alfalfa sprouts), shell Eggs, spices and seasonings

In the United States, irradiated foods must be labeled — except for “multi-ingredient” (read: packaged) foods. So if you’re purchasing spice mixes or other packaged foods which contain more than one ingredient, there’s no easy way to tell if it has been irradiated or not. Luckily, in both Canada and the United States irradiated food does not meet organic standards, so when you eat organic, you know you’re eating non-irradiated!

This is the American irradiation symbol- it looks very “green” and “eco-friendly” to me. Very misleading!

Irradiation in Pet Food and Treats

Irradiation does not kill all bacteria. It kills the majority of the bacteria that causes food borne illness but does not eradicate other waste that can contaminate meat due to unsanitary conditions in slaughterhouses and processing plants. It does not destroy the virus that causes mad cow disease (2). Many argue and wonder, myself included, that instead of jumping to irradiation as a “solution” that we should be cleaning up the way we do things- e.g. slaughterhouses. According to the Centre for Food Safety “Irradiation is an after-the-fact “solution” that does nothing to address the unsanitary conditions of factory farms, and actually creates a disincentive for producers and handlers to take preventative steps in production in handling (4)”.

Does irradiation kill or destroy the nutrients in food? There is concern about the nutritional content of the food being altered and compromised as “the gamma rays break up the molecular structure of the food (7).” Free radicals are produced and react with the food to form new chemical substances called “unique radiolytic products (such as formaldehyde and benzene- a known carcinogen) (7).” Irradiation destroys antioxidants that are necessary to fight free radicals. Radiation is a carcinogen.

According to John Hanselman “during irradiation, cell membranes and DNA strands with in microbes are broken. Chromosomes mutate when broken shards recombine (3).” This then becomes an entirely different product than what was originally intended to be consumed. All without our knowing or the knowing of the effects of this long term.

Along with killing bacteria, I found out that irradiation does nutrition, too. Vitamins A, B1, C, and E are highly sensitive to irradiation (3). I read an article called “Food Safety Concern” on the Centre for Food Safety website that says that irradiation can destroy between 2-95% of the vitamins and nutrients found in a variety of (foods including amino acids and fatty acids). For example, irradiation can destroy up to 80% of the vitamin A in eggs, up to 95% of the vitamin A and lutein in green beans, up to 50% of the vitamin A and lutein in broccoli, and 40% of the beta-carotene in orange juice. Irradiation also doubles the amount of trans fats in beef. Despite 50 years of research, food scientists still do not fully understand how these changes take place.  Much of the ongoing research, in fact, is focused on devising new ways to hide these changes, rather than addressing the cause of the changes themselves (4).

To me, the possibility of nutritional deficiencies being created due to our food being tampered with is more scary and frightening than some bacteria, mould, yeast etc on/in my food. Irradiation can also change the flavour texture and odour of the food.

There is an example of the harmful effects on cats due to consuming an irradiated pet food. Before 2009, Australia required all imported foods to be irradiated coming into the country that include fresh meats or that have been cooked at low temperatures. Irradiated food from Champion Pet Food in Alberta, Canada was sent to Australia as per Australia’s food entry requirements. This caused 90 cats to get very ill and 30 died. No animals that were fed the exact same non-irradiated food in the US and Canada got sick (8). Champion Pet food conducted extensive testing and found that Vitamin A was depleted in the irradiated food up to 77%. This can cause neurological symptoms in cats. They then tested the food at varying levels of irradiation and found that more vitamins were depleted as the levels of irradiation increases. They were also concerned with the formation and release of free radicals. Scary stuff!! In 2009, Australia banned cat food irradiation.

Irradiation in Pet Food

I have also read that almost all of the chicken jerky treats imported from China are irradiated. There have been HUGE issues with chicken jerky treats from China causing many many pet deaths and very serious illnesses.

In addition to the questions about the safety of consuming irradiated foods, there is another public safely issue to take into consideration. The nuclear plants are very dangerous places and accidents and contamination/polluting of the environment do happen and will continue to happen. To me, this is WAY more harmful and frightening than some bacteria in my fruit and veggies! Irradiation kills 95% of the bacteria in food, but not all bacteria are harmful to your health! In a day and age where we are focused on conserving energy this process requires a lot of energy and so much toxicity! Author, Michelle Hancock says irradiation gives the nuclear industry a convenient method of toxic waste disposal (3).” Yikes, again, so scary!

A passion of mine (in addition to nutrition and nature/the environment) is gut health. Irradiation wipes out the good bacteria as well as the harmful ones that we need for great health/great immunity. These good bacteria curb the growth of dangerous bacteria and according to Nate Curtis (3) produce an odour that indicated food spoilage. Nature is so amazing- of course it has an amazing process to take care of itself/ourselves. With irradiation, this process is eradicated. I find it so scary and absurd that “the nuclear industry” needs to be called in to keep us “safe” when nature has a built in process to do this. In many places I read that there is a chance that bacteria can survive the irradiation process and can mutate and become radiation- resistant. Again, I marvel at the intelligence of nature!

As previously mentioned the human industry has laws in place to indicate to the consumer when a product has been irradiated. A very scary fact is that there are no laws that require pet food to be labeled as irradiated (9)!! This is why we ask manufacturers and will not approve, nor carry products in the stores that have been irradiated.

According to John Hanselman, other methods besides irradiation can be used to control bugs such as temperature treatments and stricter cleanliness standards. GSE, or Grapefruit seed extract is a natural product that some of the stores carry) and can be purchased in health food stores that can kill these “undesirables” in food with out harmful and toxic affects on the body and to the environment. Vegetables and fruit can be washed with a few drops of GSE and the same goes for meat. GSE can be used with meat as well.

Many might be surprised to know, that the worlds largest irradiating centre is right here in Canada! The company that owns it is a New Jersey company located in Whitby, Ontario.

I could go on and on and on, this is just scratching the surface on this issue, but I will leave my findings and concerns here for now. It is my feeling, as well as the feeling of others, that we are not getting the whole truth from those that are proponents of irradiation and that nature can take care of herself (with the assistance and support of the wonderful human beings that support her) if given the chance.

Written by Tamara Low
Co-founder of Tail Blazers

Sources include:
1. (Wendy Priesnitz)
2. (Nate Curtis)
3. (Michelle Hancock)
5. things-you- need- to know/
6. (John C. Hanselman)
7. (Excerpted from the Food & Water report “Meat Monopolies: Dirty Meat and the False Promises of Irradiation” by Susan Meeker-Lowry and Jennifer Ferrara)

Government Websites: