Pet owners, take note.
(Unless your pet is a shark, I guess.)
Recently, researchers at Yale-NUS College published a research paper that investigated the traces of shark meat in pet food samples from brands available in Singapore.
The research paper, which was published on 4 March this year in peer-reviewed research journal Frontiers in Marine Science, included studies done on 45 unique pet food products from 16 brands that can be found in Singapore.
None of these products had sharks listed in their ingredient list, yet one in three products used during the research were found to have traces of shark DNA. Most of these brands used vague terms such as “fish”, “ocean fish”, “white bait” or “white fish”.
Even if you’re not a science expert, you’ll know that those labels don’t, well, indicate that there are sharks present in the products.
Benjamin J Wainwright and Ian French, the researchers responsible for this paper, noted that based on the research, the most common species present in the pet food samples included blue shark, silky shark and whitetip reef shark.
But, ok lah. At least even if your pet eats pet food with shark DNA in it, it probably won’t start singing Baby Shark, right?
How the Research Was Carried Out
Both researchers observed a total of 144 samples before using “DNA barcoding”, a research technique to help them find out the contents of the pet food.
“DNA barcoding”, just like the name suggests, involves taking a short, signature genetic region of DNA from the samples and comparing them to the information available in global databases.
This will allow researchers to properly identify which animal species are present in a food sample.
So basically like when you scan the barcode of your cereal box at NTUC to find out how much it costs, but on a much larger scale. And arguably more important as well, because paying a little more than expected for some cereal isn’t going to kill you… right?
Preservation of Marine Wildlife
Based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, silky sharks and whitetip reef sharks fall under the “vulnerable” category. The blue shark falls under the “near threatened” category.
Additionally, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) Appendix II also includes the silky shark.
With its endangered status, its trade must be controlled in order to prevent overconsumption of the species.
In the paper, it was suggested that the pet food products may include shark carcasses that are left behind after the fins, which are much higher in value, have been sold to other merchants.
Although it sounds like a straightforward enough reason to prevent food waste, the researchers mentioned that they are “skeptical that this is the sole reason sharks end up in pet food”.
Response From Pet Food Companies
TODAYonline interviewed several pet food companies, and none of the companies contacted by them mentioned that their products have shark meat in them.
Furthermore, Mr Kenneth Koh, chief executive officer and brand owner of local pet food brand Kit Cat, argued that the presence of shark DNA in pet food does not necessarily mean that the pet food has actual shark meat in it.
“They believe that perhaps, the ocean is already contaminated with shark carcasses and the tuna (in canned pet food) had consumed shark’s carcasses in the ocean and hence, there is shark DNA in the tuna.
“No one will use shark meat for cat food as everyone is conscious about sharks these days. It is also difficult to fish for sharks and it is much more expensive than tuna. So it does not make much sense to use shark meat inside any cat food products,” he explained.
As for his company, he confirmed that there are is no shark content or endangered species of fish in Kit Cat’s products after verifying with the factories in charge of manufacturing their products.
Apart from that, Nestle, the parent company of Purina, also echoed similar sentiments.
“There are no Purina products that use shark as an ingredient in its formula and we comply with industry regulations and guidelines to list all ingredients in our pet foods,” they assured.
Nestle also highlighted that they adhere to “responsible sourcing guidelines” in order to make sure that all wild-caught and farmed seafood that the brand utilises “comes from responsible sources”.
“They must not source fish and seafood ingredients that contain IUCN red-listed endangered species and must not acquire or capture any illegal, unregulated and unreported seafood,” the company emphasised.
Another brand, Mars Petcare, also told TODAYonline that they do not use any endangered fish species in their products. The company follows the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species when determining what fish species are endangered.
If Mars Petcare sounds slightly foreign to you, you might know them better by the pet food brands that they own: Whiskas and Sheba, both of which can be found in major supermarkets.
“As a global leader in pet care and nutrition, Mars Petcare is responsible for feeding and care of millions of pets every day. If true, this is a deeply worrying study,” the company responded.
“We do not use sharks in our supply chain. From this study, it asks us to look for the potential cross-contamination, for example, whether tuna intake may have caused cross-contamination.
“We have reached out to our suppliers of the products indicated in the report to reiterate our clear standards and expectations and understand where control processes need to be strengthened, if needed,” they concluded.
Mislabelling of Pet Food Ingredient Lists
Apart from that, Mr French mentioned that it is “striking that nearly one-third of the samples contained shark DNA”, even when the full extent of seafood mislabelling in Singapore is hard to determine.
He also added, “This is at least the fourth study in the past four years to expose mislabelling practices locally.”
Last year, another study conducted by Yale-NUS College personnel found that approximately 26% of seafood in Singapore supermarkets is mislabeled.
Another study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2018 revealed that there were endangered shark species that were marketed as “shark fins” in Singapore.
Basically, don’t trust everything that you see blindly. You might not even know for sure if that bowl of shark’s fin soup that you just drank contained actual shark’s fin or not.
Repercussions of Vague Labelling
Mr French, who is a graduating student majoring in environmental studies at Yale-NUS College, brought up the issue of labelling in ingredient lists, along with the possible negative effects that it may bring about.
“Under current regulations, vague labels such as ‘white fish’, ‘ocean fish’ or ‘white bait’ in pet food are allowed. These labels enable companies to sell mixtures of fish without specifying, or even possibly knowing, their corresponding species identities.”
He also mentioned that pet owners may react negatively to discovering that the pet food products that they have been purchasing consist of shark products.
“The majority of pet owners are likely lovers of nature, and we think most would be alarmed to discover that they could be unknowingly contributing to the overfishing of shark populations,” he commented.
Additionally, the presence of shark content in pet food products may be unhealthy for our pets.
This is due to how it has been proven that sharks generally possess high levels of mercury, which Mr French highlighted.
Even though there is still no scientific evidence that proves that shark meat has a detrimental effect on pets’ health, it is possible that overconsumption of products that include shark meat may lead to mercury poisoning for cats and dogs.
So keep your eyes peeled, because you definitely don’t want food to be the reason why your furry friends get into any health troubles.
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