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Ships known for keeping slaves have been linked to pet food companies. Big ones.

The good news is knowing about it is half the battle.

Ships known for keeping slaves have been linked to pet food companies. Big ones.
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Waitt Foundation

Not all pet food is evil. But some of it might be.

The pet food supply chain is like a game of telephone, only the first player in that game is a sea full of migrants in shackles, often being forced to labor on ships in international waters for years.


"Modern slavery, pass it on? NO thanks!"

Companies known for keeping slaves have been linked to Iams, Meow Mix, and Fancy Feast.

Most of the little fish that go into some pet food are being caught by sea slaves. In Thailand and the surrounding area. On fishing boats that essentially exist outside any known law.

And there are even several pretty intense lawsuits happening. Here's a peek at one.

Oof. Screenshot of Donna de Rosa v. Tri-Union Seafoods, LLC.

The solution seems easy: verify that the supply chains aren't stocked from bad guys who enslave people and break all the laws. But because the ocean has no ruler, someone's gotta step in. However, first we gotta know about it.

Here are four things to get you started.

1. Know the story behind the people who are being enslaved.

Let's put the human back into human trafficking.

This is the story of Lang Long, a pet food sea slave.

Lang Long left his family's rice patch in Cambodia in search of a better life in construction in Thailand. He had to cut a weird deal with a trafficker to get across the border, but it was his chance!

Nope. Soon after arriving, he was imprisoned by armed men and sold at least twice to different fishing boats. Selling a man! Sounds like ... slavery.

Even Secretary of State John Kerry is hip to this:

I set it to skip ahead to the part where he starts talking about Lang Long!

Yes. I know it's not fun to say that word, but we have to call it what it is. This is the selling of people. This is slavery.

Sad fish is sad. Image via Benson Kua/Flickr.

And your cat's delicious goodies go right back to Lang Long, sea slave. Worst game of telephone ever.

"OMG nooo!"

2. Know where your pet food comes from.

Ask not what your pet food can do for you. Ask "Where is my pet food even from, and WTF is up with its supply chain?"

You'll find out what the pet food companies found out. You don't really know what's up with the supply chain! See below.

3. Know how much your favorite pet food company cares about this slavery stuff.

Many have good intentions, but they should add "no modern slavery in our ingredients" to the top of the list, dontcha think?

Unfortunately, your cat's pet food supplier might not yet have a system that keeps it from using sea slaves to feed Fifi the cat.

Why? Traceability. It's just not possible right now. The ocean system that enslaved Lang Long is essentially the Wild West in 2015.

"Most fishing vessels are exempt from international rules requiring the onboard tracking systems used by law enforcement."

Thanks for not poisoning me or the environment, pet food companies. P.S. Can you check on that slavery thing?

However, things are getting a little bit better:

"By 2020, [Mars, Inc., producer of Iams pet food] 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 labor."

4. Know just how much your pet really needs to eat fish (at least right now).

Maybe your pet could lay off the pescatarianism for a bit until these pet food companies get it together?

Fishy pet food might not be all that great for Fifi anyway.

According to a 2013 paper by Kelly Scott Swanson, a professor of animal science at the University of Illinois:

"Often based on consumer demand rather than nutritional requirements, many commercial pet foods are formulated to provide nutrients in excess of current minimum recommendations, use ingredients that compete directly with the human food system, or are overconsumed by pets, resulting in food wastage and obesity."

Some pet food companies are actually choosing the same no-fish route. According to the New York Times report:

"Mars Inc., for example, which sold more than $16 billion worth of pet food globally in 2012, roughly a quarter of the world's market, has already replaced fishmeal in some of its pet food and will continue in that direction."

Fifi doesn't HAVE to give up fish. But at least now you know why she might wanna.

This is a lot to take in, I know! Especially since we've been living in the dark about this for so long.

But shackle-free pet food isn't far away if we all step into the light.

With a simple bit of knowledge, every pet owner can be a part of ending human trafficking.

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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