Slavery-tainted fish: The high price of cheap pet food

Human trafficking, slavery, torture, regular beatings, dismemberment, and execution-style killings; Slaves forced to work for no pay for years at a time under threat of extreme violence in 20-hour shifts, where some are regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going — are all part of a day’s work in the fishing industry in Thailand.

If your pet food has fish meal or fish oil in it – it very likely came from Thailand, where the seafood industry is notoriously reliant on slave labor.

Men, bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand, where workers are often chained up, beaten and deprived of food where their only escape is suicide. One victim reported that he witnessed 20 fellow slaves killed in front of him, one of whom was tied, limb by limb, to the bows of four boats and pulled apart at sea.


The catch from this brutality is ‘trash fish’, sold to factories in Thailand that make fish meal and fish oil which is supplied by a multinational Thai company that sources prawns to many global food chain retailers such as Walmart and Costco.

Although slavery is illegal in every country in the world, including Thailand, Thailand is considered a major source, transit and destination country for slavery, and nearly half a million people are believed to be currently enslaved within Thailand’s borders.

Thailand is America’s second-largest seafood supplier thanks in large part to Western appetites for cheap pet food, shrimp, and fish sticks – has driven the need for cheap labor.

Last year, $171 million worth of dog and cat food entered the US from Thailand, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. When it comes to canned dog and cat food in sealed in airtight containers — which typically means wet pet food — Thailand is America’s top foreign supplier.


The commodity commonly used in pet food and animal feed, called trash fish, is as unpleasant as it sounds. It’s a catch-all term for two types of wild-caught seafood: species that are unpalatable or too small for the human market which are ground to a mush used to produce livestock feed, pet food, fish oil and cheap processed food. The fish and other marine life scooped up by fine nets used by trawlers have led to a perilous environmental crisis by the severe depletion of marine life in Asia.

While pet food companies boast of the addition Omega-3 fatty acids, what most do not know is the fish oil is often produced with trash fish, with mackerel and sardines being the most common species, the product caught by slaves on Thai trawlers.

By the time slavery-tainted fish reaches the shore, the origins have been obscured by a series of fishmongers and middlemen. The system is so murky that seafood companies can’t honestly assert that their trash fish purchases are slavery free.

Thailand seafood industry and slavery : Thai 'trashfish' workers unload trashfish for shrimps

Therefore, no one can be sure they don’t have something on their shelves that does not have slavery or forced labor in its production.

Pet food manufacturers claim they don’t know the origin of the fish meal or they prefer to look the other way. But, ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse, because now there is clear evidence of abuse in the production of trash fish.

For the first time, after a six-month investigation by the Guardian, they established how the pieces of the long, complex supply chains connect slavery to the world’s leading producers and retailers such as Walmart and Costco, confirming what has long been known to human rights activists: The appalling maltreatment of migrant workers in Thailand.

While most of our consumers are still not concerned about where their food comes from or how it affects the environment, it is critical that the agricultural industry become environmentally responsible. If not, our seas are doomed.

The depletion of marine life in Asia is now critical; with every purchase of fish-flavored pet food and bottle of Omega-3 oil, Americans play a part in the environmental destruction of the global marine ecosystem and support the tragic abuses of slave labor. Until consumers are aware of the environmental and social costs and misery involved in bringing fish-flavored pet food to your pet’s plate, pet food makers and retailers will continue to filling the demand. Take a stand and demand that the fish meal and fish oil in your pet’s food be cruelty-free.


(SOURCE: Revealed: Asian slave labour producing prawns for supermarkets in US, UK; The Guardian UK, June 10, 2014 )

Related articles

Slavery at Sea: The Continued Plight of Trafficked Migrants in Thailand’s Fishing Industry; Environmental Justice Foundation; March 4, 2014. Watch the film: Slavery at Sea
Trash fish: It’s gross, tainted by slavery and possibly in your dog food;, June 24, 2014

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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.


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