Champion Petfoods, of Morinville, Alberta, Canada, are the manufacturers of Orijen and Acana, a range of dry pet food products for companion dogs and cats.


In early 2008 Champion Petfood’s Orijen product line was imported & distributed throughout Australia by Roland Lobo of Renasence Marketing. A few months after entering the Australian market, cats started presenting with ataxia and paralysis, which was linked to the consumption of Orijen pet food.


The obvious question was how could this “biologically appropriate” food be causing so much damage? What consumers were not told was that, upon entry into Australia, all Orijen pet food was treated with gamma irradiation as Champion Petfood’s heat treatment during the manufacturing process did not meet strict Australian Quarantine standards.


This revelation outraged pet owners as most would never have knowingly purchased any food product that had been treated with radiation. The pet food industry in Australia remains self regulated therefore Champion Petfoods & Roland Lobo had no obligation to tell consumers of the irradiation process, but Champion Petfoods & Roland Lobo were expected, in accordance with the law, to deliver the promise they had made to consumers by providing a abiologically appropriate” product. The irradiation of this product not only rendered it deficient of essential vitamins and minerals, but in the case of cat food irradiation also caused it to become potentially lethal to those cats that consumed it.


On the 20th of November 2008, Champion Petfoods announced a “voluntary recall” of all their Orijen brand products sold in Australia. At the time of the recall Champion Petfoods announced that they believed Australian Quarantine and Inspection Services (AQIS) mandatory gamma irradiation of Orijen pet food was most likely the cause of the illness seen in affected animals.


Cats that consumed Champion Petfood’s irradiated Orijen have now been diagnosed to be suffering from leukoencephalomyelopathy, a neurological syndrome which causes the demyelination of nerve fibers leading to spinal cord damage, brain damage and spasticity with symptoms ranging from hind limb ataxia to full paralysis. This is a devastating syndrome which can leave cats fully paralysed. Approximately 25% of cats affected thus far have since died.


“Coco” in the first stages: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvHHuYnpy_Y 

“Rocky” still trying to walk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCr9e7qXxZA

“Maurice” progressing to paralysis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEaXvEbLTVg


Once news of the recall began to filter through to the public, affected pet owners in a desperate bid to better understand the impending fates of their pets and if there were any treatment options available began networking and researching. During this time a lot of information was unearthed along with inconsistencies, inaccuracies and contradictions.




Champion Petfoods Recalls


Recalls of Champion Petfoods products are not uncommon. Champion Petfoods have had three separate recalls in five short years.


The first recall to surface was in 2003. Champion Petfoods were manufacturing dry food products using rendered material from carcasses that were unfit for human consumption. One particular carcass was infected with pneumonia. Apparently, Champion Petfoods did not have any issues using material from sickly animals for the manufacturing of pet food, it was later found that this animal was also infected with BSE, ‘mad cow disease’.

http://www.organicconsumers.org/madcow/cats71703.cfm


The second recall was in 2008 where large bone shards from salmon were found in Orijen dry pet food. Dangerously large, sharp and pointed bones were left protruding from the kibble, so sharp that pet owners cut their hands when handling the food. There were also reports of pets being injured. Champion Petfoods quality control was sadly lacking to have missed this potentially disastrous problem.

http://www.goldenretrieverforum.com/showthread.php?t=34536&highlight=orijen+bones.


The third recall in November 2008 appears to be the most damaging and devastating. On the 20th November, Champion Petfoods announced a voluntary recall of all Orijen brand cat and dog food sold in Australia. This was due to Australian veterinarians finding a link between cats suffering from an unknown neurological syndrome and the consumption of Orijen pet food. Champion Petfoods were alerted to the problem associated with their product approximately 2 months prior to the voluntary recall date.  As these problems were only reportedly seen in Australia it was concluded that the gamma irradiation treatment of Orijen pet food required under Australia’s quarantine laws left the food hazardous to cats.


Below is the first recall notice released by Champion Petfoods:

Orijen_Recall_Nov22.pdf


This article in The Sydney Morning Herald regarding the Australian  Orijen recall was the first  many had heard of a possible problem. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/cat-food-firm-blames-deaths-on-quarantine-controls/2008/11/27/1227491735559.html

 

Once Champion Petfoods eventually decided to take the dangerous Orijen product off Australian shelves, the recall was poorly coordinated. One pet food supplier in Australia that had sold hundreds of kilograms of Orijen and says, “Even if irradiation is to blame the company was too slow to react.” And “For Champion Pet Foods to be aware that there is a potential problem and say nothing, I think is totally irresponsible.http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2008/s2464272.htm


Another statement from an online pet food retailer who emailed a customer in regard to Champion Petfoods badly coordinated recall. “I just wish that we were notified earlier about the recall as we have all the email addresses of our customers and could have notified them straight away. It is interesting how the update says they recalled the food on Nov 20. When you go into the document properties of the recall notice pdf file it was actually created on the Nov 22nd 2008 and sent to retailers even later than that. It has been very poorly coordinated”.


Concerned vets and pet owners took it upon themselves, in the first weeks following Champion petfood’s voluntary recall, to notify some suppliers to take the remaining Orijen products off their shelves. Some were unaware of the recall and had not been notified.


Orijen had only been on the Australia market for approximately 10 months, there were relatively few retailers carrying the Orijen product. With so few suppliers one wonders why all outlets were not formally notified.


The poorly coordinated Orijen recall left some loyal retailers & customers unaware of a problem. At least 3 affected cats only ate Orijen dog food. Some retailers who enquired about the recall were told to only remove the Orijen Cat food; these actions are concerning as both the cat and dog foods had undergone the exact same irradiation process. Affected pet owners & retailers have expressed frustration and anger at how the sloppy recall was handled. They feel that Champion did not care about the welfare of their pets but were more concerned about their profit margins and ramifications from the latest recall.


Below are links in regards to delays surrounding the Australian recall.  Keep in mind Champion Petfood’s recall was dated 20th November 2008. Some Orijen brand dog food remained on shelves until 13th December 2008, 3 weeks after the recall, and was only removed after 2 affected cat owners took it upon themselves to make suppliers aware of the problem. Is it not the responsibility of Champion Petfoods and their distributor Roland Lobo to ensure all suppliers were made aware of the recall? 


http://www.cat-world.com.au/forums/index.php?showtopic=87540&st=75 (Post # 79)

http://www.cat-world.com.au/forums/index.php?showtopic=87540&st=195 (Post #206)

http://www.cat-world.com.au/forums/index.php?showtopic=87540&st=465 (Post # 468)

http://www.cat-world.com.au/forums/index.php?showtopic=87540&st=675 (Post # 676)


Champion petfoods claim: “Our mission is to produce the healthiest and safest pet food on earth - a mandate in which our entire staff are fully and passionately engaged.” Given the three recalls in the last five years it would seem Champion Petfoods have not taken the necessary steps to ensure their mission is fulfilled, and more importantly, how “passionately engaged” can Champion Petfoods be about producing “the safest pet food on earth” when they clearly did not co-ordinate this recall in the way that it should have been, professionally and passionately. 

Orijen_Recall_Nov22.pdf




Veterinarians Silenced


One Australian pet food retailer has gone on record stating that, “His veterinarian was threatened with legal action if she spoke out against the Orijen product” and “Champion had made quite the opposite of making people aware there's a problem - they blocked the people who knew there was a problem from telling everyone”.  http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2008/s2464272.htm


An Australian specialist has stated, “It's very difficult because, you know, you can be sued for libel for accusing a particular product of causing a problem…. it's very hard to get that information out there….” http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2008/s2464272.htm


However, Champion Petfoods made the following statement, “We have not threatened anyone with legal action. However we have hired legal representation in Australia and we will be active in defending ourselves from slanderous comments." http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2008/s2464272.htm


The link between leukoencephalomyelopathy and Orijen pet food was found by Australian veterinarians months before Champion Petfoods issued their “voluntary recall”. Why would Doctors who have devoted their lives to helping and saving animals remain silent.


Champion Petfoods decided to keep the defective product on Australian shelves for many weeks after being alerted to the potential problem. These actions resulted in many cats having unnecessary prolonged exposure to the harmful product which in turn worsened the severity of symptoms in patients, whilst creating  even more victims. These are not the actions of a pet food company who claims, “For over 25 years, our mission is to promote the health of dogs and cats worldwide – a mandate in which we are passionately engaged.”  Orijen_Recall_Nov26.pdf (3rd last paragraph)




Irradiation


There has been conflicting and contradictory information in regard to this topic.


Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) have a comprehensively detailed website outlining detailed requirements for importing products into Australia. This information can be easily accessed online.

http://www.aqis.gov.au/icon32/asp/ex_casecontent.asp?intNodeId=8757001&intCommodityId=6322&Types=none&WhichQuery=Go+to+full+text&intSearch=1&LogSessionID=0


Champion petfoods have claimed that they were not aware Orijen would be subjected to irradiation treatment; to many this claim seems incredible. Many have questioned why a company launching a new product into a new country and a new market, would not look into the basic matter of shipping and quarantine requirements. Australia is notorious for strict quarantine laws. If these claims are true it would appear that Champion Petfoods did not perform any research with regard to the laws of the land and had given ultimate control of the integrity of their product to their importer or agent. Orijen_Recall_Nov28.pdf (2nd paragraph, point 6).


Champion Petfood’s Australian importer and distributor, Roland Lobo of Renasence Marketing, should have known that irradiation would be carried out on all Orijen products. These requirements would have been made clear in late 2007 when the import permit application was being processed.  Information on required treatments by either heat or gamma irradiation at specific levels, dependant on the nature of the product, are made clear to the applicant before an import permit is issued. AQIS will notify the importer if and when treatment is required. Once the importer has been notified of the need for further treatment and agrees to the required treatment, only then will AQIS grant an import permit. AQIS also requires a signed ‘Authority to Treat Goods’ document before any treatments are commenced. This document must be signed by the import permit holder. In the case of Orijen petfoods it is believed that the permit holder was the elusive Mr Roland Lobo of Renasence Marketing.  http://www.aqis.gov.au/icon32/asp/ex_casecontent.asp?intNodeId=8757001&intCommodityId=6322&Types=none&WhichQuery=Go+to+full+text&intSearch=1&LogSessionID=0


AQIS APPROVED AUTHORITY TO TREAT GOODS document stipulates:


The treatment will render the goods safe for quarantine purposes only. The owner/agent should make their own enquiries as to the suitability of the treatment for the end use of the goods.

The owner/agent are fully aware of and understand that treatment may cause damage to goods
The owner/agent authorise treatment of the goods and will not hold AQIS liable for any damage caused.
The owner/agent agree to pay for all costs incurred in this treatment or for any damage caused to goods by this treatment.
The owner/agent agree that they have been informed that the treatment may damage the goods and agree to this treatment under section 44AA of the Quarantine Act 1908.


A sample form can be located here: http://www.powercustoms.com.au/documents/Authority%20to%20Treat%20Goods.doc


It has been reported that the irradiation facility offered Champion Petfood’s importer the opportunity to have a sample batch of Orijen irradiated prior to treating the entire shipment, giving the importer the chance to have the product tested for suitability of its intended end use.  The importer apparently declined the offer which was quoted by the irradiation facility as being “highly unusual”.




Contradictions


In an attempt to salvage some dignity, Champion Petfoods decided to allow a couple of their staff to help concerned customers worldwide better understand the circumstances which lead to the debacle in Australia.


Michelle Grainger and Clark Stride were assigned these roles.


On the 1st of December 2008 on Catworld forum, Michelle Grainger, a salesperson from Champion Petfoods, claimed that they did in fact know irradiation would be carried out, but not at what level. 
http://www.cat-world.com.au/forums/index.php?showtopic=87540&st=240 (post #242)


This statement contradicts what was later posted on another site;


On the 22nd of December 2008 on Itchmo forum, Clark Stride, also a salesperson from Champion Petfoods, claimed they did not know irradiation would be carried out.  http://itchmoforums.com/news-recall-related/problems-with-orijen-in-australia-t6985.465.html  (post #479, point 1)


Take note of point 4 in the above post. Clark Stride here admits that during their testing a few compounds were discovered in their Orijen pet food, BHA and BHT (preservatives). This is a direct quote from Champion’s website "We apply the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) definition of 'fresh', which is 'NEVER FROZEN and FREE OF PRESERVATIVES'.”  

http://www.orijen.ca/orijen/about/ourMission.aspx#biologically-appropriate


It appears that Champion Petfoods did not perform their due diligence when entering the Australian market, and it would also appear they did not see the need to work closely with their new importer/distributor to ensure the safety of their product from the “plant to the bowl”.


Champion Petfoods stated on the 10th March 2009 in an update that “None of the above detracts from the very strong feeling all of us have at Champion - that we should have known more about exporting to Australia prior to making the first shipment.”  To affected pet owners these words ring hollow. If Champion Petfoods had invested some time to understand their new market this carnage may have been avoided.Orijen_Recall_Mar10.pdf (last page, 2nd last paragraph)


Champion Petfoods also state in their 3rd December 2008 update “To assure food safety from the plant to the bowl, we have incorporated new measures into our export planning to insure that all new markets are rigorously examined in the way our product is handled.”  This statement seems astonishing; one would think these measures should have already been in place. One would assume Champion Petfoods had already been ensuring the safety of their products “from the plant to the bowl” since 1975. Orijen_Recall_Dec3.pdf (2nd paragraph, point 4)


Champion Petfoods has claimed they only became aware that their product was being treated with irradiation when their importer complained to them about mounting costs associated with the irradiation treatment. http://itchmoforums.com/news-recall-related/problems-with-orijen-in-australia-t6985.465.html (Post 479, point 1)


Champion Petfoods were not concerned about this and continued to supply and sell the highly priced pet food to unsuspecting Australian consumers. Champion Petfoods advertise Orijen as “Holistic” and “biologically appropriate”, they also state that they cook Orijen at low temperatures to preserve the nutritional value. It is common knowledge that gamma irradiation of any food depletes the food of essential vitamins and minerals yet Champion Petfoods did not feel the need to pull this now highly priced  nutritionally depleted pet food that ultimately caused grave health concerns to pets, off the shelves. Champion’s website states “After all, it is with our own dogs and cats in mind that we developed ORIJEN-a food that puts “nature” back into “natural” and nourishes all dogs and cats as Nature Intended.” Nature did not intend the use of gamma irradiation.




Shipments


AQIS have stated there were three shipments of Orijen imported into Australia. Both AQIS and the irradiation facility have stated that gamma irradiation was carried out three times on three separate shipments.


Peter Muhlenfeld, Champion Petfood’s Sales and Marketing Manager, emailed one affected cat owner stating there was only ever one shipment of Orijen imported into Australia. The affected cat owner posted an extract of this correspondence on Catworld forums. Muhlenfeld states, “While the single lot shipped to Australia was widely distributed in Canada and abroad, reported problems are exclusive to the Sydney region http://www.cat-world.com.au/forums/index.php?showtopic=87540&st=30 (post #36) 


On the 20th February, 2009 Peter Muhlenfeld states the following in a post on petforums.co.uk, “To set the record straight, we made 2 shipments to Australia. A third shipment was made but stopped before it entered the irradiation chamber and returned. In total, less than 3 pallets of ORIJEN cat food were sold in Australia between November 20, 2007 and the recall date of November 2008”. http://www.petforums.co.uk/cat-chat/29458-orijen-food-recall-pet-deaths-3.html  (post # 21, last paragraph)


On Champion Petfoods 28th November, 2008 update they state, “A total of 6 pallets of ORIJEN cat food pet food were sold through Australian….. Orijen_Recall_Nov28.pdf (2nd paragraph, point 1)


It is interesting to note that one shipment has now changed to three shipments, yet apparently only 2 shipments were treated with irradiation. The 6 pallets as quoted in the 26th & 28th Nov 08 updates have now changed to 3 pallets. Also, the date of sales & distribution of Orijen in Australia remains in question. In the 26th Nov 08 update Champion Petfoods state, “ORIJEN was sold in Australia only for a 9 month period of February through October 2008”, the recall however was only made public after the 20th November 2008.  A quote from Muhlenfeld’s post on Petforums states “ORIJEN cat food was sold in Australia between November 20, 2007 and the recall date of November 2008”. Conflicting accounts surrounding basic issues such as dates, quantity of shipments and numbers of pallets sold warrant concern when one considers the immense responsibility and trust pet owners have placed in them to ensure the health and wellbeing of their pets. One can only hope the inconsistencies from Champion Petfoods statements do not carry through to their manufacturing.

Orijen_Recall_Nov26.pdf (Page 1, point 4)


Questions remain surrounding the whereabouts of the third shipment. Was it in fact irradiated? And what happened to it?


According to AQIS and the irradiation facility, gamma irradiation of Orijen pet food was carried out 3 times on 3 separate shipments. AQIS has indicated they are in receipt of documentation concerning all 3 shipments in question. Muhlenfeld’s post on Petforums states “A third shipment was made but stopped before it entered the irradiation chamber and returned” note, Muhlenfeld states it was returned and not destroyed. Was it in fact irradiated as AQIS have indicated? And where did that third shipment end up?




Threats of Litigation 


During the frantic search for information and answers some interesting posts were found.  Some of these posts claimed that at least four other cats were also showing very similar symptoms after consuming Orijen in other parts of the world. The four cases were reported to be in the USA, UK and Malaysia. Please see links below.


The first link below is of most concern as the pet owner was contacted by Champion Petfoods and threatened with litigation, Champion Petfoods warned them to stop and if they did not post a retraction they would have their lawyers contact them. Champion Petfoods insisted the problem could not be their food without investigating the possibility.


http://www.theinternetpetvet.com/toxic-orijen-cat-food  (Posts #18, #19 & #20)

http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3018164&userid=106326

http://www.cat-world.com.au/forums/index.php?showtopic=87540&st=75  (Post #83)

http://thepetfoodlist.com/forums/index.php?topic=817.210  (Post # 210)


Unfortunately the cats of the latter 3 cases have all died. Please note that in all four cases it has never been proven that consumption of Orijen pet food was the cause of these cat’s conditions. As Champion Petfoods dismissed at least two of these cases without proper investigation, it will never know if Orijen was the cause.




The Compassion Fund


On the 20th November 2008 Champion Petfoods announced that they have organised a compassion fund to assist with the reimbursement of related veterinary and medical expenses. A full review of Champion Petfoods creative compassion fund can be found here.


At the bottom of every page on the compassion fund application reads the following statement.

Without admission of liability, this document is provided by Champion Petfoods Ltd. to assist persons residing in Australia to provide information regarding medical expenses they have incurred, and to provide the appropriate documentation to substantiate a claim for the reimbursement of medical expenses”


This raises the question, why would a company reimburse a party who has been injured as a result of their product if they feel they are not liable? Is the Compassion fund being used as a public relations exercise? Or is it merely a token gesture to minimize damage to Champion Petfoods reputation for yet another recall.


Champion Petfoods claim the fund was designed in consultation with veterinarians. This may be true but it was designed well before the illness was truly understood and before anyone knew the full extent of costs associated with medical treatments, nursing and rehabilitation of affected pets.  This was brought to attention of Champion Petfoods by affected pet owners who had mounting vet bills that far exceeded the amount payable through the compassion fund; Despite this the Compassion Fund remains at AUD $2000.


The cut off date to submit applications for the Compassion Fund was 31st May 2009. To date, there are cats which have been ill for 11 months and still require many months of treatment. The last known cases to surface were in May 2009, these cats have been diagnosed as being in the early stages of leukoencephalomyelopathy, It seems very plausible that more cats will begin to show symptoms after Champion Petfoods compassion fund cut off date.




Points to consider


•Affected cat owners have emailed Champion Petfoods on many occasions; their emails remain unanswered and ignored. This does not reflect well on Champions Petfoods customer service relations.


•Peter Muhlenfeld’s post on petforums.co.uk stated, "We have also done our best to be open, honest and transparent. All of our actions, investigations and subsequent findings were (and still are) posted on our website." Clark Stride, a salesperson at Champion Petfoods, stated that BHA & BHT (preservatives) were found during testing, yet these findings along with all other test results have not been made public and are not on Champion Petfood’s website.


•Champion Petfoods stated in their 20th December 2008 update that they will be donating AUD $10,000 to Australian cat charities and that details will be made available in January 2009. The January 19th 2009 update was released with no mention of the donation. They also announced there would be another update on the 10th March 2009. Approximately one week prior to this update, one affected cat owner contacted Champion Petfoods in regard to the $10,000 donation as it had not been mentioned since December 2008. The upset owner alerted them that they would go public if information regarding the donation was not disclosed in the 10th March 2009 update. Champion released the 10th March 2009 update with details of the AUD $10,000 donation. A phone call to the charity revealed they had been contacted by Champion about the donation only a few days prior to the 10th of March. 


•In the last week of May 2009, Champion Petfoods removed all information pertaining to the Australian Orijen recall from their website. This is the same month 3 new cases came to light.  All 3 owners were not aware of the recall. These owners who are just about to start their Orijen nightmare do not have access to the recall notices, updates or any information about the compassion fund. It seems extremely irresponsible and callous for the manufacturer of a recalled product to remove all vital information regarding a recall until the devastation caused by the product is well and truly over, clearly this is not the case.



Pet food is a multibillion dollar industry worldwide, working within inadequate regulatory regimes, relying on sub-standard and sometimes toxic ingredients, yet claiming to produce “complete and balanced” and “biologically appropriate” pet foods.  Unfortunately, defenseless pets fall victim to this greed and negligence whilst unsuspecting owners watch their loved pets suffer.


Peter Muhlenfeld, Sales and Marketing Manager of Champion Petfoods, has been quoted as saying: “Pet food is a huge business and it's really interesting to see how much people choose to spend on their pets."  In the case of the Orijen recall, some pet owners had no choice but to spend thousands in vet bills, only to watch their pets pay with their lives.

http://www2.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/business/story.html?id=d3e7c070-492d-44df-b945-59e40b3a4d97


The Australian government has now banned the irradiation of all cat food.




We would like to dedicate this site to all cats affected by Orijen and to all animals worldwide that have been made victims through negligence and greed of the pet food industry.