M&S salmon position take down

Supermarkets "Responsibly Sourced" branding picked apart

Email sent to Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture & Fisheries Sourcing at M&S Food Group, on the 5th August, 2021

Dear Steve,

Thank you for the reply to my email and for responding to the points I raised in some detail. You clearly appreciate I, and the nearly 100,000 petition signatories feel strongly there is something profoundly wrong with the factory farming of salmon.

We are clearly at odds on several major issues. Overall, your implication is that all is well with the factory farming of salmon in its current form. This is a remarkable stance for a senior member of M&S to publicly admit and in stark contrast to the quality and sustainability assurances baked into the M&S brand.

In your reply you state M&S "... can, with full confidence, make a 100% Responsibly Sourced claim on our farmed salmon." Ecohustler has drawn on a global network of experts with whom we are collaborating to dismantle this nonsensical claim. An analysis of animal welfare issues at the Scottish Sea Farms operations supplying M&S can be found here. In less technical terms in is clear that, you, your team and senior management at M&S are wilfully glossing over a wide array of serious issues including:

  • You maintain having a "dedicated farmed salmon supply partner in Scottish Sea Farms' (SSF) means your salmon is of a higher quality than others on the market, yet our analysis of publicly available SSF farm data tells a very different story. Between February 2017 and March 2021 a minimum of 1.46 million animals (and up to 3.69 million) died in SSF cages.

A mass grave of salmon in Scotland - photographed by Corin Smith of ISSF

  • Similarly, the claim is made that because your salmon is RSPCA Assured there cannot be a problem. It is increasingly common knowledge that many food assurance labels are bogus and are simply marketing ploys. For example, on land, Red Tractor Assured has repeatedly been shown to be meaningless covering the lowest welfare pork including farms with appalling animal welfare abuses. The RSPCA receives £500,000 a year from the majority of Scotland's salmon farms for the use of its logo and these farms suffer similarly high levels of mortality and parasite infections as any others. RSPCA "certified" farms have even continued to shoot seals. It is to be regretted The RSPCA has "sold out" and their label is as meaningless, and misleading as your "responsibly sourced" branding. It is an increasingly flimsy fig leaf to hide behind and, in any case, now covers most of Scotland's salmon farms.

  • You state that "aquaculture as a whole is just one of many users of fishery products, accounting for approximately 10% of all global fish meal consumption." This is completely off. The actual figure is 70-75%. For example, see this IFFO article which says "In 2018, over 18 million tonnes of wild fish were used to make fish meal and oil (FAO 2020a p 54), of which aquaculture consumed 75% and 73% respectively (IFFO 2020).
  • You state you are "confident we work with the best Salmon farmers" yet all salmon farming in Scotland uses the same general technique that releases sewage and toxic waste directly into the sea. The clear implication is it is perfectly acceptable to pollute Scottish waters, creating substantial "dead zones" of pollution just off the coast. These dead zones significantly impact other, more sustainable, businesses like creel fishermen, oyster farmers and eco tourism operators. Maintaining M&S's salmon production system is the best version possible, discounts any opportunity that your business model or your suppliers operations could make well regarded and essential improvements. Surely this is precisely the opposite of what the Plan A ethos should be? If your organisation believes open cage salmon farming is as good as it can be, can I invite you to visit a cage and dive into and under it. If you witnessed devastating pollution and sick animals first hand, perhaps you would be open to a different perspective?
  • In the Scottish Government's Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) website, reporting all mortality events above certain threshold levels between Feb 2017 and March 2021 approximately 2 million animals died. In many cases the cause given is "post-treatment'. In other words the animals didn't die of disease but SSF's efforts to remove lice - possibly by using a thermolicer and / or bleach - how can you possibly maintain this is "good husbandry?" The Thermolicer is a mechanical high pressure hot water device that is about to be banned in Norway.

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  • You write that "When comparing the survival rates of farmed salmon to that of terrestrial livestock, it's important to note the different reproductive strategies. A female salmon will produce thousands of eggs at one time, dependent on body weight, because so few will go on to survive to adulthood – fewer than five out of every 100 wild salmon return to breed." Of course, we must take the reproductive strategy into account but it's being used out of context here. The numbers of fish that die as reported by farms and published by the Scottish government (i.e. the roughly 10 million/year) are not including eggs. If we calculated the number of adult salmon to be killed for food out of the total number of eggs the females produced in the first place, it would be an extremely low percentage. But what we are concerned about is that in the seawater stage there is around 20-25% dying. That's fish that have already passed the egg/freshwater stage. They are at a size/age where they should be able to survive in farmed conditions if welfare was good enough. Another thing is that there is huge variation in the mortality rates on different farms (see technical analysis - 1% for some farms and as high as 70+% mortality on the worst) which shows that it can be possible for mortality rate to be low and it's not due to reproductive strategy. We shouldn't use wild versus captive arguments to think high mortality is ok – animals under human care and not facing the pressures of life in the wild should be able to survive at better rates!\_UU4PrM

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  • In your letter, you observe that the release of "salmon faecal matter' and "licensed veterinary medicines' directly into the sea off the coast of Scotland as within "acceptable limits that safeguard public health and that of the environment and wildlife. This statement runs contradictory to the direct experience of many who live near salmon farms. Their local knowledge and expert-led observations over many years is discarded and discounted as it is inconvenient to the narrative M&S pushes. The seabeds under the salmon factory cages are demonstrably being annihilated by the concentrated waste descending upon them.
  • Your letter emphasises the extent to which you audit your farms. The key issue here is what exactly is being audited? If the audit is the amount of concentrated biological waste entering Scottish waters from your cages - M&S salmon has the identical devastating impact on local marine life as any other salmon factory farm. If the audit covers the unimaginable pain and disturbance inflicted on marine mammals by acoustic deterrent devices - M&S cages are just as cruel as any others.
  • By choosing to audit along a narrow bandwidth of reality serving profiteering over the planet, M&S willingly blinds itself and therefore colludes in the ecological and animal welfare catastrophe emerging as a direct consequence of its business model. This corporate behaviour is typical of highly polluting industries. The tobacco industry claimed smoking is safe. Big Oil continues to deny climate change. The international agglomeration of salmon farming companies continue to repudiate their devastating impact upon coastal communities. A well coordinated global network of resistance to this environmental atrocity is growing fast, sharing and exposing stories from: British Columbia, Tasmania, Chile, Argentina, Norway and, of course, Scotland. An intense and exposing light is and will continue to be shone on the dreadful industry. Your denial of any problem will end up looking as silly and self-serving as claims that smoking is safe.\-8yHkE

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  • Please note there are a range of issues around salmon factory farming that have not yet been mentioned in association with this petition. For example, there are scientific reports coming out of the severe environmental effects due to emissions of copper from salmon farming and the impacts of acoustic deterrent devices on sea mammals. Surely, a company with the resources and scope to lead as M&S does should be working hard to address the seemingly unending range of impacts emerging from the supply chain of some of its major products and proactively seeking out improvements rather than denying the problem and hiding behind bogus branding?

The Salmon Group with which Ecohustler works hoped our petition of 100,000 people calling for M&S to stop mislabelling factory farmed salmon "responsible' would encourage your company to relabel salmon products in a manner providing consumers with accurate information about the environmental impact associated with bringing these products to market. We also hoped this might contribute to M&S sourcing its salmon in a more sustainable way - for example, using suppliers who take their operations into closed loop tanks on land that do not release toxic waste and sewage into the sea off Scotland.

By implying all is well and dandy with salmon factory farming and therefore nothing to fix, you dismiss our concerns out of hand, and offer zero suggestions in way of improvement.

On this basis Ecohustler will escalate the campaign This will be done in the following ways:

  • August 13th my colleagues and I will come to the M&S HQ to deliver our petition. Please meet with us so we may discuss this situation face to face
  • Stickers correcting the mislabeled salmon products providing an accurate description of the damage M&S salmon farming causes will be distributed to our petition signers.They will be invited to correct M&S packaging in store
  • Ecohustler and partners will continue to flag up our concerns on social media

Yours sincerely,

Matt Mellen and Team Ecohustler

Image courtesy of IISF