The Farmer's Dog

Your Pet Food May Have Been Made From Slave Labor

A shocking new report sheds light on the “forage fish” industry on the South China Sea, and you won’t believe just how awful it is.

By: Monika Wisniewska
Shackled teens are forced to work 20 hours a day for fish that may wind up in your pet’s food. By: Monika Wisniewska

The New York Times has released a startling article titled “Sea Slaves,” detailing the horrific conditions that many workers face in the Thai forage-fishing industry.

The relevance to you? These types of small, inexpensive fish — jack mackerel and herring — are sold primarily to the United States for use in canned pet food and livestock feed.

Here are some of the unbelievable conditions at sea:


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  • Grueling labor (often forced) for up to 20 hours a day on unregistered boats that stay out at sea for sometimes years
  • People, including boys as young as 15, held in cages or in chains
  • Men traded and sold to other captains
  • Deckhands given so little fresh water to drink that they’re forced to steal “foul-tasting ice from the barrels of fish”
  • Open skin wounds left untreated, causing constant infections
  • Sick people simply thrown overboard
  • Crew members brutally beaten over small mistakes — or worse, beheaded

Not enough of us think about where the ingredients in our pet’s food has come from — but chances are, the fish originated in the South China Sea, where these miserable boats venture.


“Motherships” with enormous refrigerated coolers come by and pick up the fish from these boats, which means that when the cargo arrives at port, it’s “virtually impossible to know whether it was caught legally … [or] by shackled migrants,” according to The New York Times.

Many of the fish wind up at a subsidiary of Thai Union Frozen Products, which last year alone sent “more than 28 million pounds of seafood-based cat and dog food for some of the top brands sold in America including Iams, Meow Mix and Fancy Feast.”

Mars Inc. and Nestlé Purina Respond

Pet food manufacturing giant Mars Inc. says it has started phasing out questionable fish sources and by 2020 hopes to have replaced them with proven non-threatened fish or fish farms.

Likewise, Nestlé Purina PetCare is also working to ensure that its products are not manufactured with forced labor, according to Lisa K. Gibby, vice president of corporate communications. She adds: “This is neither an easy nor a quick endeavor.”

* * *

Dave Baker, editor in chief of Petful, contributed to this article.

The Farmer's Dog

Sources: New York TimesHuman Rights Watch (1), Human Rights Watch (2), National Marine Fisheries Service

Melissa Smith

View posts by Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith, discussions manager for Petful, has been researching and writing about pet behaviors for several years. A longtime pet lover, she lives in Massachusetts with her teenage son, their cat Harrison and the spirit of their German shepherd named Gypsy. Melissa is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multimedia design and hopes to adopt as many needy animals as she can.

Don’t Miss: See why Dave from Petful thinks The Farmer’s Dog is the best new dog food in the U.S. for a happier, healthier dog: Here is his review. For cats and multi-pet households, Dave’s top pick is NomNomNow. See why here.

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