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Legal efforts to challenge tiny betta fish tanks (2018 class-action lawsuit)



The animal welfare movement has made great strides in past decades, however we are still lagging behind in securing legal protections for fish. In the United States there are very few laws aimed at ensuring the welfare of fish in science, aquaculture, and even in the pet industry.


This is one reason why companies big and small regularly exploit betta fish and profit off of consumers' misunderstandings about their needs. Bettas die in cups at pet stores because their care is not prioritized, and many brands manufacture way too small aquariums to present bettas as minimal-effort, decorative "starter" pets.


Class-Action Lawsuit



A 2018 article in the Oregonian "Mini tanks for betta fish are harmful, class action lawsuit alleges" discusses a legal effort to address these tiny betta fish tanks which mislead consumers.


According to the article, an Oregon resident filed a class-action lawsuit against several companies promoting tiny betta tanks: Petco, Central Garden & Pet (owner of Aqueon Products), and Rolf C. Hagen (owner of Marina products).


The article states, "the lawsuits against three major retailers urge a judge to bar the sale of betta fish aquariums of less than 1.5 gallons, contending they don't provide healthy housing for the fish and cause them to die much sooner than if kept in a larger aquarium."


"Deceptive advertising"


What is interesting about this case is that it involves consumer protection litigation -- alleging that the "companies are engaged in unlawful trade practices through deceptive advertising and profiting from faulty merchandise."


Indeed, these brands are knowingly misleading consumers. Aqueon's own "Betta Fish Tank Setup" article states "...the idea that betta like these environments comes from a misunderstanding of their biology. Betta fish have a labyrinth organ that lets them process air from the surface in addition to their gills. This means that, in a pinch, they can survive in a less hospitable, shallow environment. But they don't prefer tiny spaces."


However, the box for the Aqueon Puzzle Kit (0.5 gallon) claims "...[bettas] have even been found living in puddles formed by the footprints of animals!"


Is this not deceptive and misleading?


Aqueon packaging is deceptive and promotes misconceptions about betta fish habitat

Consumers purchase these tanks believing not only that they are appropriate environments, but that they are ideal for betta fish. Yet these kits don't even meet their basic welfare needs -- bettas need at least five gallons, a heater, filter, and lots of places to hide and explore.


Moving forward


While the outcome of the case is not discussed in the article, it is important that we are aware of these legal efforts.


Aqueon and Marina still manufacture tiny betta fish-specific tanks, most under one gallon. Petco's own line, Imagitarium, still markets tanks in the one gallon range for bettas (however, they discontinued the under one gallon Imagitarium betta tanks in recent years.)


There is greater consumer recognition of how betta fish are misunderstood in 2022 than there was even at the time of this case in 2018.



These tiny betta fish kits will continue to present a problem for manufacturers and retailers. Eventually they will do more harm than good for these businesses; whatever short-term profit they might offer is not worth the long-term risk to their brand images. Why shouldn't there be similar lawsuits down the line?


Cited:


Maxine Bernstein, "Mini tanks for betta fish are harmful, class action lawsuits allege," The Oregonian, November 9, 2018 https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2018/11/mini_tanks_for_betta_fish_are.html


Aqueon Products, “Betta Fish Tank Setup” Aqueon blog October 2022 https://www.aqueon.com/articles/betta-fish-tank-setup

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