A popular humane animal care certification awarded to Petco Health & Wellness in March is now under attack by PETA, which argues it amounts to false advertising.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a citizen complaint with the United States Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday. She asks for an investigation and an injunction. “Well-meaning buyers are being tricked into buying from Petco,” PETA alleges.
The dispute is over the American Humane Certified Seal of Approval. San Diego-based Petco is the first – and so far only – pet retailer to earn the designation of American Humane – First to Serve. The organization, founded 145 years ago, is the world’s largest animal welfare certification body, including farm animal certification and ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ film certification.
Petco presented this designation as validation of its care and general condition of small animals, birds, reptiles, fish and other species supplied by suppliers and sold in its stores.
But PETA alleges that Petco has a documented history that discredits the designation.
In 2019, a dozen Petco stores were cited by the Colorado Department of Agriculture for more than 80 violations of the state’s pet care facility law. Violations included dirty cages, late veterinary care that resulted in the death of a gecko and a ferret, excessive amounts of dead fish in tanks and improper temperatures in exotic reptile enclosures, according to PETA.
As recently as July 2021, a Petco supplier in Georgia was cited by the US Department of Agriculture for negligence, including allowing cannibalization in hamster enclosures, according to the complaint.
At a Pennsylvania supplier, a manager pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in 2017 after the USDA initially found 117 violations and 36 animals in need of veterinary care.
“The fact that Petco is the first entity certified under this pet supplier program is truly telling – given the level of animal suffering and neglect that has been recorded in both Petco stores and at its suppliers,” said Jared Goodman, associate general counsel for the PETA Foundation. “PETA is asking the FTC to investigate before other companies as callous as Petco receive this meaningless certification.”
A Petco spokeswoman reached by the Union-Tribune did not provide an answer before press time.
According to PETA, there are conflicts of interest between Petco and American Humane. The retailer’s nonprofit, Petco Love, is a sponsor of the American Humane Awards and last month announced a $30,000 grant to the organization’s sanctuary. American Humane’s chief veterinarian was previously Petco’s vice president of veterinary medicine.
Based in Washington, DC, American Humane’s roots go back to the rescue of horses in Europe during World War I.
American Humane spokesman Mark Stubis said the nonprofit has not seen PETA’s filing. But he said the allegations were false.
“It appears to be a PETA stunt intended to generate a bogus news cycle,” he said.
American Humane’s Pet Provider certification is new. Petco was the first pet retailer to open its doors to independent third-party audits by American Humane, which led to the company getting the stamp of approval, Stubis said.
“An independent Scientific Advisory Board of highly respected experts in animal welfare, animal science, animal behavior and animal ethics has developed comprehensive scientific welfare criteria to help ensure and verify the proper pet care,” he said. “Trained auditors have spent months inspecting Petco pet care centers and their suppliers and found that Petco meets or exceeds our rigorous standards.”
But Goodman, PETA’s attorney, said Petco continues to partner with vendors cited for violations in the past — to the best of its knowledge.
And while American Humane claims that all animals from certified animal providers receive the highest level of care, its standards generally meet the industry minimum, Goodman said.
“They are exotic animals, complex, intelligent individuals, who are denied everything that is natural to them, and they suffer from it,” Goodman said. “The best way to help suffering animals in the pet trade is to simply never shop at stores that sell living things.”
There is no statutory or rule-based time limit for the FTC to respond to PETA’s complaint. It usually takes the agency a year or more to decide whether it will investigate, Goodman said.
Shares of Petco traded Wednesday down 5% at $17.90 on the Nasdaq.