"Organic" status of Scottish farmed salmon contested by environmental groups

An open letter by 30 Scottish groups urges the UK Soil Association to stop certifying Scottish farmed salmon as "organic". Soil Association says "we are working with the sector to drive improvements".
Atlantic Salmon.
Atlantic Salmon.Photo: Adobe Stock.

Organic certification of salmon farms in Scotland has been called into question by more than 30 organisations.

The Soil Association, which certifies organic farming and aquaculture in the UK, has received an open letter signed by groups including WildFish, Coastal Communities Network and Blue Marine Foundation, calling on it to stop certifying Scottish farmed salmon as organic.

The letter comes in response to the Soil Association's public consultation on its updated organic fish farming standard, which WeAreAquaculture reported on last year.

The consultation, which was open for 60 days, closed on 29 January 2024.

Open letter calls to remove organic certification for salmon farming, calling it an "inherently unsustainable industry"

Calling fish farming "an inherently unsustainable industry", the open letter from the coalition of environmental groups states:

"We do not agree that open-net salmon and trout (finfish) farms should be included in your organic certification programme. The negative environmental impacts of the open-net salmon farming industry are completely counter to the organic principles of the Soil Association, and we believe the certification is a reputational risk for your organisation, misleading to consumers and an unacceptable greenwash of an inherently unsustainable industry. We are therefore calling for Soil Association to remove organic certification from salmon and trout farms."

"So-called ‘organic’ Scottish salmon is a misnomer," said Rachel Mulrenan, Scottish Director at WildFish, in a press release.

"The fish are raised in the same way as all Scottish farmed salmon – in open-net cages, where all the waste from the farm flows straight into the surrounding lochs and sounds, including faeces and uneaten feed," she argued.

“Organic’ salmon farms are permitted to still use highly toxic chemicals, which can kill surrounding wildlife; they still use wild-caught fish to produce feed and for parasite control (typically, wrasse used as cleaner fish), with unknown environmental impacts; and they still allow for the build-up of sea lice parasites, which can spread to, and prove fatal for, wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout," Mulrenan said.

The Soil Association says the organic rules are strict, and that they are working with the sector on improvement

“Organic farms must follow strict rules to minimise impacts on the environment and animal welfare, and when problems occur, they must prove they are taking action in order to use the organic logo," a Soil Association spokesperson told WeAreAquaculture.

"We recognise there is still much work to be done to further improve fish farming, and that is why we are working with the sector to drive improvements forward. Without our involvement millions of fish would be living in worse conditions."

"We were one of the very first organisations to develop organic aquaculture standards in the 1990s and while we only work with a small percentage of fish farms, our rules are having a wider impact with many of these also being adopted by the non-organic sector."

"But there are still many challenges to be tackled and we take all concerns seriously, which is why we are currently reviewing our aquaculture standards and we will consider all the points raised today in our open process," the spokesperson said.

Organic standards for aquaculture to be updated following consultation

The Soil Association's consultation on organic aquaculture, which closed this week, focused on updating standards to improve welfare for both Atlantic salmon and cleaner fish such as wrasse and lumpfish.

"Our current standards review is proposing to introduce specific requirements that ensure best practice for cleaner fish as well as protecting their welfare," the Soil Association spokesperson told WeAreAquaculture.

The review also looked at tightening rules for aquaculture feed, and reducing environmental impacts from management of sea lice by fish farmers.

Soil Association Certification currently certifies 23 salmon farms as organic in Scotland, composed of 14 seawater sites and 9 freshwater sites.

Across the UK as a whole, a total of 34 salmon farms are certified as organic on the Soil Association website.

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