The only ethical labelling on the mainstream brands is when MSC-certified fish is included, denoting fish from sustainable sources. The following brands sell varieties containing MSC fish: Sheba, Cesar, Whiskas and Gourmet. Yarrah only uses MSC fish.
Though the issue of sustainably sourced, MSC-certified fish has been addressed by some companies in the pet food industry, virtually no attention has been focused on the labour that supplies that fish. A recent report in the New York Times told of brutal conditions for forced labour or ‘sea slaves’ in the Thai fishing industry. In the USA, consumers have filed a lawsuit against Nestlé and Mars for importing fish-based pet food from Thai Union Frozen Products that allegedly is part of a slave labour and human trafficking problem.
Nestlé said it was looking into the issue and would publish its findings later in the year.
By 2020, Mars plans to use only non-threatened fish caught legally or raised on farms and certified by third-party auditors as not being linked to forced labour. Other pet food companies using non-MSC fish may well be sourcing from the Thai fishing industry. Two companies, MPM Products and Town & Country, state on their boxes ‘Product of Thailand.’
Experts also argue that pet food companies need to reduce the prime fish in their products.
Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at University of York and the author of ‘Unnatural History of the Sea’, said: “Clearly it’s more sustainable using certified products than uncertified ones, but what makes me uncomfortable is we are feeding so much fish protein to pets when there isn’t enough fish in the world to give everyone a healthy amount of fish in their diet.
“I say this as a cat owner: pets are definitely second rate when it comes to eating fish, and should be largely fed by the trimmings market.”
According to global fisheries expert Giovanni Turchini, a good thing you can do is resist the urge to turn your cat into a greedy gourmet. ‘Luxury’ fish should be off the menu. Cats are very happy with less problematic by-products from the fish filleting industry – ironically found in own-brand canned food perceived as downmarket.
Some pet food makers label their tuna-based pet food as ‘dolphin friendly’ but this does not mean that the tuna is fished sustainably or that the fishing methods are friendly to other sea life.
Is Palm Oil in Dog Food?
The palm oil in your pet food can take the form of glycerin and propylene glycol, sometimes even just pure palm-oil.
A 2011 report for the UK government also found that more than a tenth of all the world’s palm kernel meal – a lucrative by-product of the production of palm oil – is fed to British animals, including cats and dogs. The report found that while retailers and manufacturers of branded foods are rushing to buy certified ‘sustainable’ palm oil that does not destroy the rainforests, animal feed manufacturers show “little awareness of sustainability”.
British imports of sustainable palm kernel meal are precisely zero. No RSPO-certified palm kernel meal had been purchased when the report was written in 2011.
Brands not using palm oil: Ami, Beco, Benevo, Yarrah, Yora, Burns, Eukanuba, Iams, Harringtons, Meowing/Barking Heads, V-Dog and Wagg.
Brands only using certified sustainable palm oil: Hill’s, Nestlé Purina, Mars, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op.
All the other brands either used non-certified palm oil or had no clear palm oil policy.
GMOs in Dog Food
Meat products produced from animals fed on GM feed are not required to be labelled. Large quantities of GM soya and maize are imported into Europe, including Britain, as animal feed.
A 2008 Soil Association report estimated that around 60% of the maize and 30% of the soya in the feed used by dairy and pig farmers is GM.
Yarrah only make organic (and therefore GM-free) products. Yora products are also GM-free, as they are made from vegetables grown in the UK (where GM growing is banned) and larvae that have been fed with organic food by-products (rather than soya or maize). All varieties from Ami, Benevo and V-Dog, and Penlan Farm veggie dog food are certified by the Vegetarian Society so are also required to be GM free.
None of the other companies could guarantee that the meat in their pet food was not from GM-fed animals.
Furthermore, Nestlé Purina PetCare spent $120,000 in 2014 and Mars Inc. spent $1.12 million in the first half of 2015 lobbying against the labelling of products containing GMOs in the USA.
Animal Testing of Dog Food
The majority of pet food manufacturers no longer use invasive animal testing methods for their pet food but they may still keep captive animals in research centres for non-invasive tests. Companies that do this or did not clearly say that they didn’t, receive a mark in the Animal Testing column.
The following brands in this guide were on PETA’s list of ‘Non–Animal-Tested Companion Animal Food’: Ami, Applaws, Barking Heads & Meowing Heads, Benevo, Burns Pet Nutrition Ltd, The Co-operative Food, Encore, V-Dog, and Yarrah Organic Petfood. They did not receive a mark nor did companies who only conduct palatability tests in the pets’ home settings.
There are two ways to ensure higher standards of animal welfare when buying pet food: buy organic or buy vegan or vegetarian.
Organic Meat and Poultry
The only animal welfare standard we found on pet food sold in the UK was the organic standard.
The Soil Association’s organic standards exceed standard industry practice and include prohibiting confinement systems, ensuring bedding and/or environmental enrichment, ensuring free-range access with shade and shelter, specifying stunning and slaughter practices and monitoring welfare through outcome measures.
Organic farm animals:
- Must have access to fields (when weather and ground conditions permit) and are truly free range.
- Must have plenty of space – which helps to reduce stress and disease.
- Must be fed a diet that is as natural as possible and free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
- Must only be given drugs to treat an illness – the routine use of antibiotics is prohibited.
- Cannot be given hormones which make them grow more quickly or make them more productive.
- Must not be produced from cloned animals.
- According to EU law, only food that has been made from 95%+ organic ingredients can be certified as organic.
The following brands are totally organic throughout their ranges: Yarrah.
The following brands offer some organic varieties: Burns, Benevo, Waitrose.
Vegan and Vegetarian Dog Food
Dogs are omnivores so they do not have to rely on eating meat as they can find all the nutrition that they require from non-animal sources. Vegan commercial dog food is much more available than vegan cat food.
PETA UK advises: “For a smooth transition, start by mixing vegetarian food with the meat-based food. Gradually increase the vegetarian portion and decrease the meat-based diet over one to two weeks. Most dogs’ and cats’ health improves on a vegetarian diet, but be sure to monitor your animal closely to be absolutely sure that the new diet is agreeable. If not, you may need to switch to a different brand, try supplementing commercial food with fresh whole or raw foods, or go back to the meat-based food.”
Some people wonder if it’s “unnatural” to omit meat from the diet of a dog or cat. But to feed them the meat that they would naturally eat, you would have to serve them whole mice or birds or allow them to hunt for themselves. A natural diet for cats and dogs is certainly not the cooked cows, pigs and lamb found in conventional food.
Totally vegan brands: Ami dry cat and dog food, Benevo dry and wet cat and dog food, V-Dog dry dog food
Some vegan varieties: Yarrah wet and dry dog food, Burns Penlan Farm vegetarian dog food.