Photograph Source: Jason Meredith – Flickr – CC BY 2.0
Mars Petcare US—purveyor of pet products including Whiskas®, Greenies™, Sheba®, Cesar®, and Iams™—is a division of the $35 billion Mars (M&Ms) chocolate empire.
Mars chocolate is problematic in its own ways—serious ways—but today I focus on the corporation’s pet fetish.
Mars’s 2019 BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ gimmick was announced at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Summer Meeting in Honolulu. How did Mars pull that off? The corporation had only to dangle $60,000 in “grants” in front of the mayors ($160,000 in total since 2017 when this scheme was concocted).
Mars no doubt laughed all the way to the bank as three high-profile city leaders trotted off, as directed, to start setting up amenities for “pet parents and their furry loved ones.”
So here we are, in the midst of a dual crisis of extinction and climate breakdown, and mayors are Paving the Way for a More Pet-Friendly Future at their summer conference.
The release attributes its “paving the way” slogan to a corporate affairs VP at Mars, who likely means it in the concrete sense. Mars quizzed cities that sought these funds on how much pet-friendly infrastructure they planned to create.
Rest assured it is not my intent to insult the pets themselves. And I’m all for rescuing dogs, cats, and other pet-industry refugees in need of care and love. But let’s grow up. “Pet-friendly infrastructure” is another word for sprawl.
Aw…Now Who’s a Good Mayor?
Now, to look at how the 2019 grant awards play out. Three cities qualify for “city-specific guidance” to enable their populations to revolve more completely around breeding, owning, and spending money on pets than they already do.
* St. Pete, Florida got $30,000 for dog park construction. This is touted as “much-needed green space” in the press releases. Earth to Mayor Kriseman: The burgeoning dog park trend is a subcategory of sprawl—even if the hue of the pee-soaked grass happens to be green.
* Dayton, Ohio collected $20,000 to teach “responsible pet ownership to kindergartners and first-graders.” In other words, Mars is marketing to children. How could little kids without pets not feel out of step? And Mars plans to expand this “curriculum” from coast to coast.
* Key West received $10,000 to support affordable vet care. Funding to help people afford to keep their animals is the most benign payment of the three. But from the world’s wealthiest pet food company, it’s not much.
Mayors Council CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran called the mayors “grateful to Mars Petcare” for the handouts, and lauded the winning contestants as “national models for other cities to follow.” The marketing coup was complete.
Behind the Scenes at Mars Petcare
Mars owns the Waltham™ Centre for Pet Nutrition labs, which it presents as “a leading innovator of enriched environments for animal accommodation” that “provides appropriate socialization, exercise and play.” Waltham supplies grants for university labs that help develop its products for cats, dogs, horses, and other privately owned animals. Waltham has funded studies of cats on high-fat diets, portion-control tests on kittens, and studies to enhance racing horses’ performance.
And Mars Veterinary (now Wisdom Health™) is active in genetic research on dogs on behalf of breeders.
Mars, Inc. also owns several vet chains, including Banfield Pet Hospitals. In 2017, Mars paid $9 billion to acquire VCA Inc., which has about 800 vet businesses throughout North America.
With this background, let’s get back to that press release, in which Mars describes itself as a family business using its “privilege” to “fight for A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS.”
Nothing like a corporation grabbing the language of social advocacy to further a booming global commerce in animals, and its own beastly profit.