"Ocean fish" and "white bait" is shark meat in cat food. Do you care?

A research study tells us that endangered sharks are being used as "white bait" and "white fish" and "ocean fish" in cat and dog food. These are generic terms. There is no attempt to specify exactly what this food is. And the question is whether cat owners would stop buying cans of cat food if the products were properly labelled and shark meat specified in the labelling.

Blue shark
Blue shark. Photo: Joost van Uffelen / Getty Images

A lot of people nowadays are concerned about the environment. They are concerned about marine wildlife and overfishing. The argument is that the pet food manufacturers should be more transparent and honest.

This is particularly so since the shark populations have declined by more than 70% over the past 50 years. They found through DNA testing that some of the shark meat in cat food comes from sharks which are endangered. The sale of their bodies and body parts are under some degree of control in terms of their trade as specified under CITES or through classification by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The most common identified shark in cat and dog food was the blue shark. The species is not listed in CITES or classified as threatened by the IUCN but scientific research indicates that it is overexploited and the fishing of it should be regulated.

Another commonly encountered shark species in cat food is the silky shark. This species is listed under appendix 2 of CITES.

The fact that there is mislabelling on cat and dog food which misleads purchasers also leads to the unsatisfactory state of affairs that many environmentally conscious customers are contributing to the overfishing of endangered sharks.

The study that I am working off in writing this article suggests that many "pet owners and lovers would be alarmed to find out that they are likely contributing to the unsustainable fishing practices that have caused massive declines in global shark populations".

Overfishing of sharks has a negative impact on ecosystems' stability and function. Separately, a study found that the removal of sharks from the oceans has been linked to the "amplification of detrimental climate change effects".

In the United States, the most commonly encountered shark species in pet food was the short fin mako. In the current study all the pet food was produced, canned or packaged in Thailand.

In all, through DNA analysis, they found nine species of shark in pet food. One proposition is that the shark fin trade is contributing to this. Sharks are caught for their fins only and the bodies are thrown away as I understand it. Perhaps these bodies are being used in pet food. It is suggested that this might be beneficial because the bodies are being wasted. I would suggest that the better course of action would be to stop killing sharks for their fins.

Silky sharks are often caught as bycatch i.e. they are not targeted fish but they are caught in nets and killed when fishing for other species. This occurs during tuna fishing for example. Once their high-valued fins have been removed their carcasses make their way into the pet food industry chain which possibly account for the high prevalence of the meat from this shark species in pet food.

In conclusion, they state that "seafood fraud and the deliberate mislabelling or substitution of products is an increasingly recognise global problem".

Would you change your purchasing habits if they listed shark meat on cat food ingredients? Do you read the ingredient listings? Do you care? Are you concerned about the endangerment of many shark species? What do you think about killing sharks for their fins and throwing the rest of the shark away? Lots of questions. I would like you to comment on this if you have time.

The study referred to is: DNA Barcoding Identifies Endangered Sharks in Pet Food Sold in Singapore (04 March 2022 ).

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