Shopping for pet food isn’t simply about reaching for the nearest item on the shelf. In fact, a lot has changed about the way its ingredients are being sourced. Here’s the scoop on one particular food label and what it says about the ingredients inside.

By Allison Maze Vancura

Grocery-store quality cod probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of pet food. But with trends like pet health and wellness closely mirroring those of their owners, consumers are keeping a closer eye on the foods they're putting into their furry family members' bowls. That's not entirely surprising, considering that Americans will spend an estimated $31.68 billion on pet food in 2019.

Knowing what your pet is eating and where it's coming from can also give you peace of mind when navigating the pet food aisle—and understanding the meaning behind certain packaging labels can be a big help. One particular label is showing up on more pet foods, and it's the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) seal, which means the ingredients are certifiably sourced from a fishery committed to sustainability. A handful of pet food companies carry this MSC seal, and now Beyond, a new line from Purina, joins the list. Several of the protein sources in Beyond's recipes like Alaskan cod, Pacific tuna, and Pacific Northwest hake ($27.90 for a 7-pound bag on Amazon) come from MSC-certified fisheries.

Image courtesy of Nathaniel Wilder/Purina.

What Does the Marine Stewardship Council Do?

The MSC is a non-profit organization that sets the bar for sustainable fishing. In other words, it looks at fisheries worldwide to ensure they're being managed properly and fishing with minimal environmental impact. Almost all major Alaskan fisheries are MSC-certified, says Glenn Merrill of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Alaska Region Sustainable Fisheries Division. So if the seafood you buy for yourself or your pet features the MSC label, it comes from a verified healthy, environmentally-friendly fishery.

"Food traceability is important to ensure that we know the source of our seafood products and helps provide a level playing field for the U.S. seafood industry," says Merrill.  "It allows consumers to make educated choices and is an important tool in combating IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated) fishing."

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Switching Your Puppy to Adult Dog Food

Image courtesy of Nathaniel Wilder/Purina.

Where (and How) are the Fish Caught?

Purina partners with Alaskan Leader, a MSC-certified fishery and seafood company, for the wild cod sourced in its Alaskan Cod recipe. Alaskan Leader's fleet fishes in the Bering Sea, a division of the northern Pacific Ocean, using the longline method (that means fish are caught individually on hooks versus as a group via a big net).

"The key factor to longline fishing is it’s very environmentally friendly," explains Shaun Andrews, captain of the Alaskan Leader's largest vessel, the Northern Leader. "What I like about it is that we don’t disturb anything. It’s not towing anything across the bottom, and you can release anything that you catch if you don't use it."

Once the fish are on board, they're processed and frozen within an hour of being caught, which preserves the cod's crisp white appearance and freshness.

Related: 4 of the Most Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded

What's Sustainable About the Process?

Besides fishing in an environmentally-friendly way, there's little food waste. Andrews estimates that 98 percent of the fish brought on board the Northern Leader is used. The meat from the heads and collars, which makes up about 40 percent of each cod, goes to Purina (the largest heads are set aside for Korea and used for delicacies like fish soup), and the larger portions are for restaurants and grocery stores.

Also noteworthy: the fishing ship is powered by generators, uses LED lighting, and has an incinerator on board to burn its own trash so none of it is hauled into town. There's even a small-scale factory on board, including an automatic baiter to make quick work of getting lines ready (plus, it saves hours of work and keeps the crew lean and efficient). All of these footprint-minimizing measures add up, explains Keith Singleton, president of value-added programs at Alaskan Leader Seafoods. He says switching to generator power reduced fuel costs by 22 percent (and half a million dollars) in the first year alone, and those savings have only increased since the Northern Leader entered service in 2013.

Related: The Annual Cost of a Puppy Is More Than the National Average for Two Months’ Rent

Keeping pets happy, healthy, and well-fed continues to be important to pet parents (they're family members too, after all). So how to shop smart? If the pet food recipe contains seafood, look for the MSC seal to ensure it comes from a responsible, well-managed fishery. The food might cost a little extra, but you can rest assured knowing your four-legged friend is eating quality ingredients that will help him live a full and healthy life.

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