Culture

The Salmon Dance - M&S petition hand in event

115,000 signature petition delivered with dancing to the M&S headquarters in Paddington, London

Friday the 13th of August 2021 a troupe of dancers and teams from Ecohustler and 38 Degrees headed to the headquarters of M&S in Paddington, London to hand in a petition with 115,000 signatures calling for M&S to come clean about the damage caused by their factory farmed salmon.

Iconic retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) has come under increasing pressure following a petition demanding responsible labelling of products with negative impacts on the environment. At the core of the controversy is the supermarket chain’s ‘most important seafood raw material by both volume and value,’ Scottish farmed salmon. The petition, hosted on the 38 Degrees website, has now collected over 100,000 signatures.

M&S emphasises the quality and sustainability of their products and all its salmon is labelled “responsibly sourced” despite the increasingly well documented impacts of open-cage factory-farming in Scotland including multiple reports of “sickening” conditions found at Scottish Sea Farms sites that supply M&S with over 10,000 tonnes of the coveted fish per year.

Video also on Facebook here

Factory salmon farms in Scotland have mortality rates of up to 20%—far beyond what would be tolerated on land. Beyond the suffering these captive creatures may go through, there is widespread evidence pollution and serious impacts on marine ecosystems both in Scotland and elsewhere as huge quantities of wild fish are caught to feed the salmon.

Allan Ross, Deputy Head of External Communications meets Matt (founder of Ecohustler). Matt is joined by Sarah from 38 Degrees and concerned shoppers who signed the petition

Incensed customers have taken to Twitter and Facebook to confront the upscale chain on misleading labelling, seeking a response to the petition. Marks and Spencer sent a detailed response to the petition in which they denied there was a problem. Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture & Fisheries Sourcing at M&S Food Group wrote -

“M&S has a dedicated farmed salmon supply partner in Scottish Sea Farms and over the last 15-years, that partnership has developed a unique industry leading farming system that is RSPCA Assured, M&S Select Farm audited and delivers leading production standards.”

And also…

“...we can, with full confidence, make a 100% Responsibly Sourced claim on our farmed salmon.”

Social media storm

Thousands of people who have signed the petition are now going one step further and are interacting with M&S on their social media channels. These messages, many of them from furious customers can be seen here on Twitter.

“At a time when so many of us are seeking to lessen our environmental impact it is totally irresponsible and wrong for a trusted brand such as Marks and Spencer to market factory-farmed salmon as an ethical and sustainable (“responsible”) option. Given the immense harm this industry does both to coastal ecosystems both in Scotland and beyond, these products should come with a warning label. Instead consumers are being told they are ok to eat.” explains Matt Mellen, Editor of Ecohustler, who set up the petition,

Misleading marketing?

M&S previously faced criticism, when it was revealed that they have been branding factory farmed salmon as sourced from the fictional “Loch Muir” since 2006. In what can only be interpreted as a public relations stunt, merchants are shifting away from bogus place names and simply labelling their products as “responsibly sourced”.

A punchy 90-second video produced by Ecohustler Magazine has clocked up over 200k views and parodies supermarkets aggressively marketing farmed salmon to consumers as the “ethical option”, as they avoid wild stock depletion, laying bear the tragic irony behind this reality: a single farmed salmon requires up to 200 wild fish to feed it.

“In our busy lives, we generally don’t have the time or inclination to research everything we eat and buy, and nor should we have to. Our supermarkets should practice genuine transparency when it comes to the labelling and sustainability of their products and our government should legislate these kinds of claims. Until that day, avoiding farmed salmon and signing our petition are two ways you can take action today to bring about the changes we need to see,” says advert star Natalie Fée oceans campaigner, author, TV presenter and founder of the NGO City to Sea.

Growing awareness of issues facing our oceans

Campaigns such as the one launched by Ecohustler have raised growing awareness among the general public, backed by hard-hitting documentaries like Netflix’s Seaspiracy, exploring the impact of overfishing on our global ecosystems. In it, the producers specifically discuss both unhealthy Scottish salmon farming along with misleading mislabelling of fish products by corporations all along the market chain.