Feeding a pet in the United States can sometimes mean indirectly feeding the slave trade in Thailand.

An investigation by The New York Times found many leading pet food brands in the U.S., including Iams, Meow Mix and Fancy Feast, buy seafood for their products from Thai Union Frozen Products, Thailand’s largest seafood company.

However, Thai Union owns a cannery, the Songkla Canning Public Company, which gets forage fish from boats that use slave labor. The forage fish, small and cheaply priced, are harvested in the South China Sea, where migrant workers from Cambodia and Myanmar spend years at sea against their will.

Interviews with these fishermen revealed horror stories of sick crew members being dumped overboard and defiant ones being killed, sometimes by having their heads cut off. Many workers are beaten for minor “offenses,” such placing a fish in the wrong bucket or not working fast enough. Still others are “sealed for days below deck in a dark, fetid fishing hold,” the Times’ Ian Urbina wrote.

“Life at sea is cheap,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said. “And conditions out there keep getting worse.”

Songkla Canning has also been on the radar of the Criminal Investigations division of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whose 2010 on-site inspections of Songkla’s Thailand facilities found unsanitary conditions that produced “adulterated” seafood that is potentially “injurious to health.”

“The United States is the biggest customer of Thai fish, and pet food is among the fastest growing exports from Thailand, more than doubling since 2009 and last year totaling more than $190 million,” reported the Times.

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