Do you ever have this creepy feeling that, just maybe, commercial pet food isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Are you suspicious of pet food company claims that your dog or cat wouldn’t be healthy unless they ate food that came out of a tin can or a paper bag?
If you’ve been wavering on the pet food fence, now, there’s another reason to make the move to a healthier pet food and wean your pets off highly processed food: Cutting down on canned food and kibble can also help you cut down on the amount of cancer causing acrylamide you feed your cat or dog.
And that’s a good thing.
Because high levels of acrylamide have been found to cause cancer in animals, and on that basis scientists believe it is likely to cause cancer in humans as well.
Just last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted yet another update about their concern over the cancer causing chemical acrylamide in food, expressing their concern said:
“Acrylamide in food is a concern because it can cause cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, and is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”.”
GUIDANCE FOR PET PARENTS
Even though the FDA didn’t mention the dietary risk of acrylamides in pet food, the advice they give humans – to cut back on foods that are likely to contain acrylamides – can be applied to what you feed your dogs and cats as well – especially if it is something your pets consume on a regular basis.
Because pets usually consume processed foods throughout their entire lives, chronic exposure to acrylamides in canned and kibble pet food could have an effects on their health.
Why is acrylamide such a worrisome chemical?
Because, acrylamide is considered to be a genotoxic carcinogen which means it has the potential to cause cancer by interacting with the genetic material (DNA) in cells.
That’s a bad thing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives agrees, and worries that exposure to acrylamide in certain foods is a “human health concern”, given its ability to induce cancers and heritable damage at gene and chromosomal levels capable of causing mutations in animals.
And experts from European Food Safety Authority’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain say that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer, that evidence from animal studies shows that acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic: they damage DNA and cause cancer.
Typically, acrylamides form when starchy carbohydrate-based foods such as kibble, dog biscuits, crackers, potato chips and French fries are roasted, oven-heated or fried at high temperatures. Scientists call it the Maillard reaction. The same chemical reaction that causes your bread to toast and turns your French fries that deep golden color, causes the same chemical reaction when kibble is extruded.
Since most pet foods contain a ton of cereal grains and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, and are processed at high temperatures (200–300°F), these same toxic chemicals are formed in canned, baked and extruded pet foods.
Another worrisome problem is that pets could be getting a double, or even a triple dose, of acrylamides in their food. Why?
Because many of the ingredients used to make pet food have already been highly processed before getting to the pet food factory. The ingredients are then cooked a second time in the can or when making kibble or baking biscuits. Even after its cooked at the factory, it can be cooked again for a third time. For instance, kibble is often recooked. That’s right – recooked.
It’s a practice in the pet food industry known as “rework,” where batches that didn’t turn out right for one reason or another, are mixed back into another batch of kibble gloop (dough), stirred around and it’s recooked at high temperatures once more.
We also know that certain waste products, (and we know pet food contains a ton of those too) such as distillers grain, are treated at high temperatures to do to kill mold, acrylamides form, and those products are used in pet food which then they are subjected to further high heat treatment during the canning and extrusion processes.
THAT’S A LOT OF TOAST
If the Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that acrylamide is found in 40% of calories consumed in the average American diet — can you imagine what it might be in the average American pet diet?
Even though the amount and effects of acrylamide in pet foods are largely unknown, the first study ever done to determine the quantity of Maillard reaction products (chemicals) in pet food, found that, compared to the calculated average for human adults, dogs eat up to 122 times more of one of the chemicals when eating kibble. Cats eating kibble ingested up to 38 times more of one of the chemicals compared to adult humans. Worse, dogs and cats fed canned food are more likely to ingest even higher amounts of chemicals compared to pets that were fed kibble.
The study authors worried that because pets are typically fed a diet of nothing other than kibble and canned food, more research should be done:
“As commercial pet foods are most often the only source of food for dogs and cats, future research focus should be on the bio-availability and long-term health implications of Maillard reaction products consumption by dogs and cats.”
Unlike humans, who have the option to modify and limit their exposure to acrylamides by varying their diet, domestic animals are not typically given a variety of options with which to choose from – they are obliged to eat what ever is put in front of them – or starve. Unfortunately, most pets are fed a diet of canned and kibble food – day in, day out – every day for the rest of their lives: A food that could contain cancer causing chemicals.
World health organizations overwhelmingly conclude that levels of dietary exposure to acrylamide indicate a health concern and advise that exposure to acrylamide in food should be “as low as reasonably practicable.“
Until more is known about the effects of acrylamides in animals, particularly cats and dogs, there is no clear-cut advice. But, when I’m fretting over a dilemma where there is no right or wrong answer, I apply my Grandma’s good old-fashioned, home-spun wisdom: It’s better to be safe than sorry. Scientists call it the precautionary principle.
- A report by a Joint Expert Committee of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization warns that the unintentional contaminant acrylamide in certain foods may be of public health concern since it has been shown to cause cancer in animals.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, Acrylamide Working Group state that acrylamide is a human neurotoxin and is currently classified by IARC as a Group 2A probable carcinogen.
- The Codex Alimentarius Commission has developed a Code of Practice for the reduction of acrylamide in food to disseminate best practice to manufacturers.
- Experts from European Food Safety Authority’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain confirm that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers.
EVEN MORE STUFF
- Quantitation of Maillard Reaction Products in Commercially Available Pet Foods (PDF)
- Acrylamide in Food is a Public Health Concern (EFSA)
- Chemical Contaminants: Acrylamide (EFSA)
- Frequently Asked Questions on acrylamide (WHO)
- Acrylamide Questions and Answers (FDA)
- Guidance for Industry: Acrylamide in Foods (FDA)
- Download the entire Guidance for Industry: Acrylamide in Foods (FDA)
NOTE: A great big thanks to my colleague Dr. Jean Hofve of Little Big Cat who generously supplied me with the full text copy of the study on Maillard reaction products in pet foods (above). Normally, to view the full text of articles published in scientific journals, you have to pay for it – and God knows, I’m a poor as a church mouse… So, thank you Jean! <3