"Greenwashing" objections to farmed salmon name change dismissed

“Greenwashing” objections to farmed salmon name change dismissed

The UK Government threw out more than 20 objections to the Scottish fish farming industry’s successful bid to remove the word “farmed” from the official name of its salmon.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) approved an application last month by trade body Salmon Scotland to change the legal name of its produce from “Scottish farmed salmon” to simply “Scottish salmon”.

Scottish farmed salmon is Britain’s number one food export and sold to over 50 countries around the world, with sales worth £581m in 2023.

Salmon Scotland said the name change protects the industry from inferior products and food fraud. The fact the salmon is farm-raised will still have to be displayed somewhere on the packaging.

The decision proved controversial, however, with animal welfare groups and environmental campaigners arguing it amounted to “greenwashing” the reputation of the farmed salmon industry, which has polluted the marine environment and threatened wild salmon populations.

They fear the word “farmed” will be less prominently displayed on labelling, which could lead consumers to believe they are eating wild-caught fish.

A freedom of information (FOI) response received by The Ferret has now shown there were 22 objections to the name change but all were deemed ‘inadmissible’ by Defra. Documents released under the FOI also show officials raised concerns that the name change could “mislead” consumers, although they later backed the decision to approve it.

"Greenwashing" objections to farmed salmon name change dismissed

Critics said UK civil servants and politicians who approved the change should be “ashamed”. Welfare charity WildFish, which has lodged an appeal against the decision, said it was “deeply concerning” that the name change had been “pushed through” despite so many objections.

Scottish Salmon, however, said it was “pleased that the UK Government had taken steps to update the legal protections for our iconic Scottish product”. 

Defra said it could not comment because of the ongoing legal challenge to its decision.

Protected Geographical Indication

PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) labels are used to communicate to consumers the authenticity of products known for the region in which they are made. 

Only produce from that region can carry the name – examples include Parma ham, Cornish pasties, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Stornoway black pudding. 

“Scottish farmed salmon” was first registered as a PGI in 2004. Prior to the name change there was no PGI on “Scottish salmon” but there was on “Scottish farmed salmon” and “Scottish wild salmon”.

The new PGI carries a strict geographical designation covering the coastal region of mainland Scotland, the Western Isles, Orkney, and Shetland.

Salmon are imported as ovum from Iceland, grown in filthy floating factory farms, and are now going to be sold as ‘Scottish Salmon’.

John Robins, Ethical Promotions

Changes to PGIs are scrutinised by Defra officials and an expert panel representing all of the UK’s devolved governments. They are ultimately approved by the UK environment minister. 

Individuals and bodies who raised objections are not named by the FOI response. But those who said they had objected include chef Tim Maddams, formerly of the River Cottage Canteen, Clare Mercer Nairne of The Meikleour Arms in Perthshire, the Scottish Coastal Communities Network and Animal Equality.

Many objectors argued the change was likely to mislead consumers of Scottish salmon into thinking they are eating fish caught in the wild. This concern was also raised internally by Defra officials and an individual within the Welsh government, the FOI response shows.

But all 22 objections were deemed “inadmissible”, clearing the path for Defra to approve the name change. If the objections had been upheld, Salmon Scotland would have had to enter discussions with the objector to resolve the issues they raised.

In its application to Defra, the salmon farming industry argued the name change was required to protect its produce from the growing risk of food fraud – where a fraudster attempts to pass off its produce as a well-known product such as salmon from Scotland.

In an email in January 2023, Salmon Scotland said it had been approached by Defra to find a solution to “reduce possible confusion relating to the marketing and labelling regimes of Scottish salmon in UK retail”. 

The PGI scheme means salmon from Scotland is protected from food fraud, because only salmon from a specified region can legally be called “Scottish salmon”.

"Greenwashing" objections to farmed salmon name change dismissed

In an internal email in January 2023, an unnamed official questioned whether having a PGI for Scottish salmon and Scottish wild salmon could “confuse consumers”.

A similar concern was made in a comment on Salmon Scotland’s application. An official wrote: “Main concern is whether consumers will be confused and understand the difference between Scottish salmon and Scottish wild salmon if the PGI for Scottish wild salmon industry still exists. There was no confusion when labelled Scottish Farmed Salmon and Scottish wild salmon.”

A representative of the Welsh government echoed these thoughts in March 2023. “The only concerns I would have is will the consumer understand the difference between Scottish Salmon and Scottish Wild Salmon”, they wrote. 

However, a later document notes that both Defra and devolved government officials had deemed the name change as “justified and meeting the requirements” of the PGI scheme.

External objections to the application also focused on the potential for the new PGI to mislead those buying salmon in shops. One objector argued it would “disguise” the origin of the salmon and that conflating “wild and farmed salmon will undermine the integrity of Scottish salmon” as a product.

Defra found this objection to be inadmissible partly because the product label will still have to state that the salmon has been farmed. 

Another objector argued that because ‘Scottish farmed salmon’ had been a “recognised” PGI for 20 years the “sudden removal” of the word farmed could cause “customers to believe they are buying a new product with different origins”. Again this was dismissed by Defra.

It’s hugely concerning that this application has been pushed through, despite so many separate individuals and groups submitting objections.

Rachel Mulrenan, Wildfish

Abigail Penny, executive director of Animal Equality UK, claimed that Salmon Scotland’s move was “an embarrassing attempt by the industry to salvage its damaged and severely dented reputation”.

She said: “The Scottish farmed salmon industry’s reputation is in tatters as exposés continue to shine a light on the industry’s deadly practices. We’ve revealed footage of fish suffocating to death, being eaten alive by lice, entering stun-kill machinery backwards, and dying en masse in disease infested Scottish waters.”

Rachel Mulrenan, of the campaign group WildFish, said: “It’s hugely concerning that this application has been pushed through, despite so many separate individuals and groups submitting objections, which is why WildFish has issued a formal appeal. 

“With rising numbers of dead fish on the farms, toxic chemicals polluting Scottish sea lochs, and concerns about fish welfare, it’s perhaps no surprise that this application has been made to change the name and drop the word “farmed”. But let’s be clear – this is farmed salmon raised in Scotland, it is not Scottish salmon.”

Campaigner John Robins, of Ethical Promotions, expressed his concern at what he claimed was “political greenwashing of perhaps the most cruel and polluting livestock industry in Scotland”.

He added: “Salmon are imported as ovum from Iceland, grown in filthy floating factory farms, most of which are owned by foreign companies, and are now going to be sold as ‘Scottish Salmon’. Shoppers will be fooled into thinking they are buying wild Scottish salmon and not a far inferior farmed product.

“The small print of the proposed changes is also very concerning. Producers are trying to play down the use of wild caught fish to feed factory farmed salmon. They also claim the salmon are slaughtered humanely despite whistleblowers releasing video footage clearly showing that is not always the case.

“The civil servants and politicians who are agreeing to these changes should be ashamed of themselves. I thought they were supposed to protect consumers, not confuse and mislead them.”

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “Scottish Salmon is increasing in demand from consumers across the globe, so we are pleased that the UK Government has taken steps to update the legal protections for our iconic Scottish product.

“We know when consumers talk about ‘Scottish Salmon’ they are talking about the salmon produced by our member companies, and the update to the PGI is a small but important clarification.

“Scotland’s salmon farmers work hard to rear their fish, and this recognition by Defra is testament to the commitment of all those in remote communities who continue to meet the growing demand for Scottish salmon at home and abroad.”

Main image: Ilia Nesolenyi/iStock

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