For over a decade, Mars Petcare, the largest pet food maker in the world, has been promising they would introduce a certified sustainably sourced fish-based pet food, but today, Mars does not have a single product that meets that description in the US.
Twelve years earlier, Mars announced they were the “first pet company to make a commitment to sustainable fish, and we hope that will act as a catalyst for the whole industry”; that pet foods like Pedigree, Whiskas, and Sheba would only be sustainably sourced by 2020, and the first sustainable-sourced fish will be processed in Europe. In addition, they planned to include sourcing fish according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSTC), which uses its MSC Fisheries Standard to assess if a fishery is well-managed and sustainable.
Yet today, of the 41 Mars pet food brands, only one brand – Sheba – has some recipes that have the MSC-certified blue logo, but they are only available in the UK. Despite that fact, in June, Mars Pet Nutrition Europe announced that 100% of the fish used in its pet products available in Europe is sustainably sourced and aligned to Mars’ sourcing guidelines. During the same month, Mars Petcare (USA) announced the company now sources “96% of fish” used in their pet foods sold in the US from “more” sustainable sources that align with Mars’ guidelines, up from 81% last year in the US.
But the central problem with Mars’ sourcing guidelines and sustainability claims is that the company uses its assessments and criteria without a method for the public to ascertain its accuracy or validity.
After the expose in 2015 ‘Sea Slaves’: The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock, in which the New York Times blew the lid off the fishing industry accusing both Mars and Nestle of contributing to horrific human rights violations, Mars introduced its Thai Fish Human Rights Action Plan in 2016 to “stamp out human rights violations” in their supply chains. That same year, Mars estimated that 43% of its fish and seafood ingredients were sustainably sourced, presuming that 57% of the source of its fish was not sustainably sourced. The company promised that by 2020, it would use only non-threatened fish caught legally or raised on farms and certified by third-party auditors as not being linked to forced labor.
But today, a Mars infographic shows that a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) study found that from 2015 through 2019, the company sourced 34% of its fish from MSC-certified “wild-caught fisheries,” leaving 66% of the fish in Mars pet food that might include fish that were illegally caught, raised on farms, uncertified by third-party auditors and linked to forced labor: Leaving consumers to wonder, just what is in their fish-flavored pet food?
And after five years of work on the Thai Fish Human Rights Action Plan, Mars said they are still evaluating what they’ve learned and what challenges still need to be overcome. Isabelle Aelvoet, Global Sustainability Director, Mars Petcare, said Mars is “working with our suppliers to remedy these problems, but if we cannot resolve these issues to our satisfaction quickly, we will seek to end the use of transshipped products in our supply chains until these serious problems are fixed.”
Addressing global ecological and human rights issues, including the MSC, is not without enormous problems. Labor, human rights, and environmental organizations are deeply concerned that the MSC Chain of Custody Certification program is ineffective in protecting seafood workers from labor rights violations. And the program does not assure consumers that child labor and forced labor are not present in their supply chains, particularly if the pet food contains fish meal or fish oil that likely came from Thailand, where the seafood industry is notoriously reliant on slave labor.
Meanwhile, there already are a number of pet food brands in the US that are already MSC-certified sustainable, including one by Nestle Purina Petcare, called Beyond, which is third-party reviewed MSC-certified, USDA-certified Organic, and Non-GMO Project certified. Other manufacturers include:
- Annamaet (Sustain)
- Castor & Pollux (Pristine)
- Deck Hand (Whole Foods Brand)
- Petcurean (Gather) MSC-certified, USDA Organic
- Tender & True (Salmon and Sweet Potato, Ocean Whitefish and Sweet Potato)
For over a decade, Mars has talked about seafood transparency, traceability standards, human rights standards, violations, and strict global internal quality and safety requirements. However, in practice, it has led to little change on a measurable scale. And the promise of a better world matters little if the pet foods they promise never materialize. Americans want more than promises; they want sustainable and responsibly sourced pet food.
(Note: Mars Petcare did not reply to my multiple requests for comment.)
NOTE: As everyone knows, I’d rather starve than get paid for a pet food endorsement; so instead of selling my soul, I sell my drawings an prints of pets and the people that love them on Saatchi Art. The featured image ‘Portrait of a lady with her kitten‘ in this article is avialable as an orginal work of art for $3160 or as a print starting at $40. 100% of the sales of my art support my work as a consumer advocate for better, safer pet food.