You’re gonna hate this, just warning you now.  Guess where most fish is processed?  No matter where in the world the fish is caught, no matter what country the fish is sold in…guess where the majority of fish is processed?  China.  Caught fresh, frozen, shipped to China, thawed, processed, re-frozen and shipped all over the world.  Oh, and by the way, chemicals are added during processing in China too.

Janice Elenbaas of Lucky Dog Cuisine recently sent me an email, asking if we could talk.  Her email shared she had discovered some disturbing information about fish in the US.  She was right, that phone called turned into some disturbing information.  Ms. Elenbaas had decided to develop a fish recipe for her Lucky Dog Cuisine.  Finding a supply of quality fish for a new Lucky Dog food turned into somewhat of a nightmare.  All Ms. Elenbass could find was fish processed in China…with added chemicals.

In 2010 MarketResearch.com wrote: “China’s ability to undercut the cost of production in most industries has spread to the fish and seafood processing industry, and much of what is caught by the rest of the world’s fleets is now destined to be processed in China.”
The Seattle Times wrote: “Pacific salmon swim as far as 2,000 miles to lay their eggs in rivers up and down the Northwest. Once caught, some make a longer journey: 8,000 miles round-trip to China.”

Seafood Today magazine wrote: “Facing growing imports of low-cost seafood, fish processors in the Northwest, including Seattle-based Trident Seafoods, are sending part of their catch of Alaskan salmon or Dungeness crab to China to be filleted or de-shelled before returning to U.S. tables.

Highliner Fish products states: “The majority of Canadian fish and seafood companies use China to process and/or fillet their fish.” 

And this is happening all over the world…a Scottish website story from August 2009 states: “Cod caught off Scotland is being sent on a 10,000-mile round trip to China and back again to be filleted for supermarkets, shops and chip suppers.  The fish is caught in the North Atlantic, deep frozen, shipped to China for processing by workers earning less than £1-a-day before being refrozen and returned to Scotland.”

A New Zealand investigation found the same thing.  Here’s a photo taken from their YouTube video showing filets of the same type of fish – the top left being caught in New Zealand waters, processed and frozen in New Zealand – bottom right being caught in New Zealand waters, frozen, shipped to China, thawed, processed, re-frozen, shipped back to New Zealand.  You can easily spot the difference between the two.

An investigation by Kolbotek, an Israeli consumer awareness TV program sent hidden camera reporters to two Chinese factories.  In one of the two video’s produced by Kolbotek, you see the fish being soaked in “STTP-laden water to make them heavier.”  Some footage of the videos show the fish being pounded, an apparent effort to cause the fish to absorb more STTP-laden water.  Photo shots from the video’s…

So what is STTP?  Sodium Tripolyphosphate.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states: “Polyphosphates are legally permitted additives that are widely used to aid processing or to improve eating quality of many foods, particularly meat and fish products. The main value of polyphosphates lies in improving the retention of water by the protein in fish.”

The Material Safety Data Sheet for sodium tripolyphosphate states:
“Toxicity to Animals: Acute oral toxicity (LD50): 3100 mg/kg [Mouse].”

In Food and Water Watch’s report “What is Sodium Tripolyphosphate Doing in your Fish?”, the consumer watchdog group states “In large quantities, STPP is a suspected neurotoxin, as well as a registered pesticide and known air contaminant in the state of California.”

The biggest questions for pet owners…are fish ingredients in pet foods processed in China? And if so, do the pet food fish ingredients include STTP?

I made phone calls to several pet food manufacturers, none of them would confirm their fish ingredients were processed in China.  All seemed surprised by the question (is the fish in your pet foods processed in China?); consistently I was only told ‘we have trusted U.S./Canadian suppliers for our fish ingredients.’

But I did find one clue…
On Amazon.com you’ll find Wildside Salmon Cat Treats.  Ingredients:  100% Wild Alaskan Salmon.  Similar to the ingredient listing of other salmon pet foods or pet treats – emphasis placed on ‘100% Wild Alaskan Salmon’.  However, on the Wildside Salmon Pet treats website states…(click here to read) “My name is Richard Phillips and I am the President of Phillips Seafoods, Inc. You may be familiar with our WildSideSalmon pet treats and you may be concerned by the freeze drying and packaging of our Alaskan Salmon in China.”

In years of contacting pet food manufacturers asking country of origin of ingredients, not once has any company shared the fish is/was processed in China.  The response to country of origin of fish ingredients has only been “caught in Atlantic waters” or similar.

Despite lack of information from pet food, my best guess is yes, most pet foods source fish ingredients that were processed in China.  My reasoning to this assumption is based on money and based on statistics.

Money.  Seafood-today.com states (in 2005) the labor required to remove the bone in salmon (the example fish provided) costs about $1.00 per pound in the U.S., the same labor costs $0.20 per pound in China.  The shipping to China including the round trip back to the U.S. costs another $0.20 per pound.  China provides a savings of $0.60 per pound of fish.  I can’t imagine many of Big Pet Food spending an extra $0.60 a pound for U.S. processed fish.  Plus, they are not required to tell the petsumer if the fish was processed in China, not required to tell the petsumer if STTP chemicals were added in China or if the fish is farm raised or wild caught.

Statistics.  The website AboutSeaFood.com states: “The U.S. imports about 80% of seafood Americans eat, of which 40% is farm-raised.”  Matt Getsinger of Georgia Select Fish Farm told that five years ago there was 750 million pounds of farm raised (U.S. farms) catfish processed here in the U.S.  Today, about half of that amount – 350 million pounds – of U.S. farmed catfish is processed in the U.S.  He stated “that’s not because we are eating less fish, we’re eating more fish actually.  But now more farmers are sending the fish to China for processing.”

Will they ever tell us if fish ingredients in pet foods are processed in China or if STTP was used?  It’s doubtful, that is…it is doubtful that pet food companies who do source fish processed in China will be transparent about it.  It’s even more doubtful that we will learn if STTP is included in our pet food; STTP would be considered a processing aid – not required to be stated on a pet food label.

But the good news is pet food manufacturers that purchase fish processed in the U.S. or Canada will tell you and be more than happy to provide you with evidence of such.  The manufacturers that care about quality have more than likely searched high and low for a safe source of fish for their pet foods and they will probably be thrilled someone asked about it.

Questions to ask:
1.  Where was the fish ingredients used in your pet food processed (in what country was the fish processed)?  (I’d suggest asking this about fish meal, whole fish ingredients such as salmon, and even fish oil ingredients.)
2.  Was the raw fish soaked in an STTP (sodium tripolyphosphate) solution during processing?

You can even ask if whole fish is used in the food (if yes, ask if the fish is gutted), if the fish used in the pet food is filets, or if it is scrap cuts (left over bits and pieces left after filleting the fish).  Keep asking questions and even ask for evidence of such.  As pet food consumers we deserve to know.

My sincere thanks to Janice Elenbaas of Lucky Dog Cuisine for sharing her experiences with me – which led to this story.