Meat From Endangered Sharks Found in Dog And Cat Food, Scientists Say
Scientists claim that meat from endangered sharks is being used in dog food and cat food and that consumers are being misled by incorrectly labelled products that list their meat as “whitebait”.
The scientists claim that shark populations have dropped over 70 percent in only 50 years and that while fishing was largely blamed for pushing three quarters of all oceanic sharks to the brink of extinction, there may be another factor at play.
The scientists said that “pet owners and animal lovers may unwittingly be contributing to the overfishing of endangered sharks.” They came to this conclusion after sequencing 144 samples of DNA taken from 16 brands of Singapore pet food producers, testing 45 of their products. Out of the 144 samples, they said that approximately one third -45 – of them contained shark DNA.
In their study, they say that “none of the products specifically listed shark as an ingredient, listing only generic terms, such as ‘ocean fish’, ‘white fish,’ and ‘white bait.’ The vague terminology used to describe pet food ingredients, and in some cases, the mislabeling of contents, prevents consumers – in this case, pet owners – from making informed and environmentally conscious decisions.”
The scientists did nuance their position by saying that “global demand for shark products, such as fins, liver oil, and meat, has caused precipitous declines in shark populations.”
But they also stressed that “another contributor to these declines is the mislabeling of seafood products, either deliberate or accidental. The practice of mislabeling generally involves the substitution of a low-value product for one of a higher value to increase the economic gain.”
They said that the confusing terminology used to label ingredients used in pet food can “eliminate the consumer’s ability to make an informed decision about which products they wish to purchase and use.”
They illustrated their argument by saying that “pet foods and cosmetics frequently contain shark products even when not shown on the ingredients list.”
They added: “Pet food contains shark meat, while squalene is frequently found in cosmetics and other beauty products; in both of these cases, DNA barcoding has highlighted the presence of endangered shark species”.
While they acknowledged that in some cases squalene sometimes comes from non-shark sources such as plants, “DNA barcoding has confirmed that the squalene in some pet food products and cosmetics is derived from sharks, such as the hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), that are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature”.
They also said: “In both pet food and cosmetics where shark DNA has been detected, the shark was not listed as an ingredient; instead, catch-all generic terms were used to describe the contents. Consequently, the consumer would have no way of knowing that the purchased product contains sharks without using DNA-based testing methods.”
The study was authored by Ian French, of the Yale-NUS College, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore, and Benjamin J. Wainwright, of the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore.
It was published in the academic journal Frontiers in Marine Science on Friday, 4th March.