China’s official Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily, published a tirade this weekend against family-owned American pet food company The Honest Kitchen for advertising that it locally sources ingredients and does not use and Chinese products in its recipes.
The company makes clear in its advertising that it avoids Chinese ingredients and declares in one promotional graphic, “p.s.– free Tibet!”
The People’s Daily called the company’s choice to advertise that it uses no ingredients from the country “offensive and wrong” and accused it of “promoting an anti-Chinese agenda.” The newspaper ominously adds that, “as recent events have shown, making oneself an enemy of the Chinese people is not the right way to do business.”
The pet food company’s offending label reads, “we make ALL of our cat and dog foods without ingredients from China – nothing, zip, nada!” In an explanation of its policies on its blog from 2014, The Honest Kitchen responds to news at the time that Petco and Petsmart had banned dog treats from China following the revelation that these treats had caused significant health damage to the pets eating them.
“In light of the recent news of big pet chains banning treats from China, we wanted to take a moment to point out that we make ALL of our cat and dog foods without ingredients from China – nothing, zip, nada! This includes our treats, supplements and foods,” the blog post reads. The post also included a map of where ingredients in the company’s food comes from, which highlighted the lack of Chinese products. Next to China on the map, the company placed a small sign reading “p.s. – free Tibet!”
A report published in March – despite years of the small company using such marketing – in a Canadian newspaper quoted a Chinese consumer who said they “felt offended” by the label. “I don’t feel very comfortable that a product like this exists in the market,” the consumer told Richmond News.
Responding to the complaint, the company’s founder, Lucy Postins, explained to the newspaper that the ban on Chinese products is a response to severe safety concerns with Chinese pet food.
“Back in 2007, there was a massive pet food recall in the industry in the United States. It was extremely devastating and many pets lost their lives,” she said. The offending ingredient was found to be the chemical melamine which, she said, “turns out to be exceedingly toxic for dogs and cats and thousands of pets lost their lives.”
“We have customers that are Chinese people or Chinese citizens and they don’t want to use Chinese ingredients for their dog and cat. So the label is not against the (Chinese) nation or people,” Postins added. Postins founded the company in 2002 in an attempt to develop what the company calls “human grade” dog and cat food, intended to provide healthier diets to pets.
“It is ridiculous to judge China’s food quality based on the melamine pet food recall, especially in the face of new facts,” the People’s Daily responded to the company’s explanation. “China places high value on food safety and has been making great efforts to improve the quality and safety of its food. Its actions against the Chinese people show that it is not ‘honest’ at all.”
The Chinese propaganda outlet expresses particular concern over the support for a free Tibet. Tibetan leaders – particularly, the Buddhist leader Dalai Lama – have for decades expressed a desire not to be governed by the Communist Party in Beijing, a desire routinely disregarded by the Chinese government. China considers Tibet a rogue province and condemns any acknowledgment of its independent existence and nearly all mentions of the existence of the Dalai Lama. It has also been promoting a communist-friendly successor to the Dalai Lama, a Panchen Lama that the Dalai Lama dismisses as a counterfeit substitute for the boy he chose years ago, who Beijing disappeared over 20 years ago.
“What does the ‘Free Tibet’ slogan have to do with food safety?” the People’s Daily asks. “A persuasive argument can be made that trying to build a brand around such political slogans has little to do with food safety and much to do with promoting an anti-Chinese agenda.”
Under Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, the Chinese regime has intensified its harassment of international companies that express sentiments the communists do not agree with it. The Honest Kitchen is one of the smaller companies to face this sort of attack; in the past year, China has targeted Mariott, Mercedes-Benz, and the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for literature for various alleged affronts to Beijing.
The Man Booker prize committee nominated a Taiwanese professor, Wu Ming-yi, for its 2018 prize, identifying his nationality as Taiwanese. As China does not consider Taiwan a sovereign state, but a rogue province, it vocally protested the move, forcing the prize committee to change his nationality to “Taiwan, China.”
“Since the publication of the longlist for this year’s Man Booker International award, my nationality on the webpage has been changed from Taiwan to Taiwan, China, which is not my personal position on this issue,” the author wrote in protest on Facebook. “I will therefore seek assistance in expressing my personal position to the award organisation.”
In February, the Chinese government threatened economic retribution against Mercedes-Benz after a social media manager posted a quote by the Dalai Lama on the car maker’s Instagram page reading, “look at all situations from all angles, and you will become more open.” Despite Instagram being banned in China, Beijing protested the image and forced Mercedes-Benz to issue an effusive apology for offending the sensibilities of communists.
In January, the Chinese regime accused Marriott hotels of having “seriously violated national laws and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” for placing a drop-down menu on its non-Chinese websites listing Hong Kong, Macau, Tibet, and Taiwan on a radio button list of options for “countries.” Marriott’s Twitter page also liked a tweet from a group called “Friends of Tibet.”
“Marriott International respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. We don’t support separatist groups that subvert the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. We sincerely apologize for any actions that may have suggested otherwise,” the company said in an apology.