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Carcinogen found in food prompts FDA warning, ignoring pet food risk

The FDA issued a softly worded request of food manufacturers to please, please try their darndest to see if they can’t reduce the amount of the genotoxic, neurotoxic, carcinogenic chemical known as acrylamide in their food stuffs. It was such a lovely worded request, I wondered if it was sent on embossed stationary, lightly scented with lavender.

A frightening carcinogenic chemical

Acrylamide has been terrifying scientists for about the last decade when Swedish scientists first discovered it in cooked foods in 2002; The World Health Organization recognized acrylamide in food as a major concern, given its ability to induce cancers and heritable damage at gene and chromosomal level causing mutations in animals. The findings that acrylamide induces tumors both in rats and mice are consistent with a genotoxic mode of action of the frightening chemical.

What scientists have found, was that when certain foods were cooked at temperatures above 248 degrees Fahrenheit, acrylamide can form. In particular, acrylamide levels rise sharply when potatoes are fried; but when they are overcooked — lookout brother — acrylamide levels can sky-rocket up to 10 to 20 times higher. In contrast, acrylamide formation has not been found to occur at temperatures below 248 °F.

Pets don’t get to choose

And although humans can easily modify their diet to exclude or limit foods typically high in acrylamides such as potato-based and cereal-based foods and other carbohydrate-rich cooked foods as the FDA suggested, pets, on the other hand, cannot.

If the Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that acrylamide is found in 40 percent of the calories consumed in the average American diet — imagine what it might be in the average American pet diet?

Animals in confined feeding operations and pets who are fed a homogenous diet of highly processed carbohydrate-based pet food day in and day out, don’t get to choose; Animals in captivity face the greatest risk and the inevitable consequences of a diet that has the highest levels of toxic chemicals like acrylamides.

Cooked, and cooked, and cooked again

Pet food and animal feed manufacturers consistently use material called “rework” — food that was previously cooked  — but will be cooked again for a second or even third time using high heat processing used to manufacture dry pet food; The ideal conditions to create even higher levels of acrylamide.

Even if you don’t have a pet consider this: The next time you gulp down that ice-cold glass of milk, try to remember that cows are typically fed a revolting diet of by-products of oil, starch and sugar production which when processed using heat treatment are likely to form acrylamides.

The result?

Animal feed containing acrylamides then carry-over into animal products, like milk, for example.

Pets and livestock, the animals that have little choice but to be fed diets that are largely made up of inferior waste ingredients, salvaged from the human food industry and cooked and sometimes re-cooked multiple times along the food processing chain, will suffer the most.

It is time that FDA stop tip-toeing around genotoxic carcinogens like acrylamide and stop giving industry the rose petal and champagne bubble bath treatment when it comes to dangerous chemicals.

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (4) Write a comment

  1. What most consumers don’t know is that the pet food industry is an extension of the human food and agriculture industries. Pet food provides a convenient way for slaughterhouse offal, grains considered “unfit for human consumption,” and similar waste products to be turned into profit. This waste includes intestines, udders, heads, hooves, and possibly diseased and cancerous animal parts.


    • I know and it is so sad on so many levels. Waste or offal can have many meanings and be of differing quality. The trouble is, FDA doesn’t particularly care what type of waste it is – it’s all allowed. The gross diseased bits, and possibly even perfectly good parts that humans (in America) don’t consume, but animals would love. It’s a shame and a waste!


  2. As usual, pets and animals get the short end of the stick, BUT humans aren’t getting too much of a better deal.
    I like the way you describe it, “softy worded request; as I also noticed the same thing in the second link you gave us, “FDA Issues Draft Guidance…” and found many glaring loopholes. One is: “..the FDA seeks to support industry sectors that have taken a **wait-and-see approach**.” [whatever that is]. The other is: “To help **mitigate** potential human health risks, the FDA’s draft guidance **recommends** that companies be aware of the levels of acrylamide in the foods they produce and **consider** adopting approaches, **if feasible**, that reduce acrylamide in their products.” Snore. Lawyers must have dictionary with words to use for waffling.

    What I find scary is the break-off point at 348 degrees. Most recipes for the oven call for 350 degrees.



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