Salmon shame - RSPCA and Chris Packham slammed for of “gross hypocrisy”

RSPCA "for profit" greenwashing of salmon farming makes a mockery of its claims to “RESPECT” animals.

A typical salmon suffering in an RSPCA approved cage *all images and video copyright Corin Smith

Corin Smith, salmon farming investigator and founder of, recently accused the RSPCA and its President (Chris Packham) of “gross hypocrisy” and running a welfare scheme that amounts to a protection racket for the whole salmon farming industry.

In the RSPCA’s recent video promoting its rebrand it suggested to the viewer that traditional farming is bad and we all need to have more “respect” for animals. But while the RSPCA pointed to traditional farming as a problem, it notably failed to mention the appalling and systemic welfare issues on the huge salmon feedlots in Scotland that the RSPCA is paid to endorse as part of its higher welfare scheme, RSPCA Assured.

Corin Smith said,

“For many years now, I have documented first-hand the appalling suffering that takes place inside salmon feedlots in Scotland. Even though I have a farming background I continue to be shocked. The salmon in these feedlots are being routinely left to suffer truly horrific effects of disease, parasitic infection, and rough handling for weeks on end with no individual treatment and no euthanasia. It is a complete disgrace that the RSPCA not only endorse, but profit, from this misery while seemingly protecting the industry from any form of prosecution. The RSPCA Assured farmed salmon welfare scheme is an abomination.”

Corin Smith

All Scottish salmon sold in supermarkets comes from huge industrial salmon feedlots on the West coast of Scotland. Almost all of it is sold with the RSPCA Assured label for higher welfare printed on the packaging.

Mr Smith recently wrote to the RSPCA and Chris Packham to call on the organisation to end its association with open cage salmon farming in Scotland. He raised a number of issues including the following. He has so far received only a stock response from the RSPCA and no response from Chris Packham.

- Use of the RSPCA Assured logo by salmon farming corporations to promote their products is bought, not earned

It is estimated the salmon farming industry pays the RSPCA up to £1m per year to make use of the RSPCA brand, helping to sell their products. No salmon farming company is permitted to use the RSPCA branding unless it has paid for it.

- During the last twenty years of the RSPCA Assured scheme, premature death rates on salmon feedlots (from diseases, parasitic infection and rough handling) in Scotland have consistently increased, significantly, and are at levels an independent inquiry found were unacceptable

Many salmon feedlots have consistently high levels of premature death, far in excess of an already unacceptably high industry average of nearly 25% of stock and face no sanction from the RSPCA. These same salmon feedlots will have high mortality in multiple production cycles over many years and have still remained in the RSPCA Assured scheme, continuing to be able to brand their products as higher welfare. These salmon feedlots may have had premature death rates as high as 70% of stock. Premature mortality on salmon feedlots is the best indicator of low welfare we have and is now significantly higher in Scotland than in regions such as Norway, where of course the RSPCA has no presence. It could be argued that the RSPCA Assured scheme has allowed the Scottish Government to avoid its responsibility to impose the objectively higher welfare regulations that are present in Norway, thus resulting in the relatively worse lives being led by farmed salmon in Scotland today.

We now have the ludicrous situation where the quality of life for farmed salmon in Scotland has significantly, and objectively, declined when compared to previous years and also to those regions where the RSPCA is not present, yet over the same period the RSPCA branding has been used to actually improve the perception of Scottish salmon with consumers and buyers, such that a price premium is now achieved over other regions. This is the dictionary definition of greenwashing. (For reference click: HERE)

- Consumers are led to believe that all Scottish salmon with the RSPCA branding is specially selected and guaranteed higher welfare, when that is, in fact, not the case

There is no differentiation between higher or lower welfare salmon feedlots in the RSPCA Assured scheme. In effect, virtually all salmon feedlots in Scotland are in the RSPCA Assured scheme and therefore deemed to be higher welfare. Salmon feedlots do not have to actually meet any higher welfare standards in order to use the RSPCA brand in their marketing materials, they just have to aspire to be higher welfare. Within the RSPCA Assured technical salmon standards, welfare is not measured, nor managed, by any objective nor quantifiable basic numeric metric such as premature mortality rates. Operators achieve compliance by simply trying to achieve the standards. All of the salmon shown in the images could have been sold with the RSPCA Assured higher welfare label. As long as a salmon is still floating and can barely swim, it can be slaughtered and enter the food chain.

- Salmon feedlots have been shown to have breached environmental laws multiple times on multiple occasions and have remained in the RSPCA Assured scheme, despite breaching the standard

While virtually all of the RSPCA Assured salmon standards are vague and ill-defined, one of the only definitive elements is that operators must adhere to local law. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency concluded definitively that members of the RSPCA Assured scheme had, in fact, breached the law on multiple occasions over a number of years and could have been prosecuted. RSPCA Assured accepted this, but despite a clear breach of their standard, the company and their salmon feedlots were permitted to remain in the scheme and continue to label the product as “higher welfare”.

- There is no practical mechanism for individual salmon feedlots being removed from the scheme and none have ever been removed

- RSPCA Assured auditors are subject to Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure Agreements to prevent whistleblowing about salmon feedlots and/or causing any reputational damage to the RSPCA

- The RSPCA Assured scheme is governed by the salmon farming industry itself

Over three quarters of the RSPCA technical standards board for salmon welfare is either directly employed in the fish farming industry or with direct financial links to it. There is no independent welfare, environmental or local community board members

- The RSPCA directly condones the slaughter of over five hundred million wild fish, to be used as farmed salmon feed, by methods which it expressly does not allow for the slaughter of the fifty million farmed salmon covered by the RSPCA Assured scheme

In order for the farmed salmon industry in Scotland to feed the approximately fifty million salmon that are slaughtered here each year, it is widely accepted that well in excess of five hundred million wild fish will therefore have been captured, many thousands of miles away, and lost their lives (and their biomass lost from their ecosystem) in order to be processed into feed that is then shipped half way round the world and fed to farmed salmon in Scotland.

A Scottish salmon factory farm

Neglect and Unnecessary Suffering

The appalling suffering shown in the attached images and videos raises the obvious question as to why the RSPCA is so quick to prosecute the public and traditional farmers, but has failed to ever take any action against the salmon farming industry, despite numerous instances of seemingly prosecutable offences on salmon feedlots.

Mr Smith said,

“Ask anyone who knows anything about animal welfare and fish sentience, they will tell you that these salmon are enduring extreme suffering. Ask anyone who knows about salmon farming and how this happens, they will tell you it takes weeks and weeks of neglect for it to occur. I could investigate Scottish sheep and beef farmers everyday all year and I know I’d struggle to find a single case of neglect and unnecessary suffering, yet with Scottish salmon farming it is fundamental to the business model and I know I can find multiple cases every day of the year. The RSPCA’s blanket endorsement of all salmon feedlots in Scotland, and its failure to take any action on any welfare issue, while pocketing nearly £1m a year in cash from salmon farming corporations, has all the hallmarks of a modern-day protection racket.

I encourage consumers to complain to the Advertising Standards Agency about RSPCA Assured, while also de-funding the RSPCA until it resolves these untenable double standards.

Chris Packham’s sanctimonious preaching, calling on the public to boycott farmed salmon, while he is President of an organisation promoting it, is gross hypocrisy. While in a position of real power Chris Packham says lots but does nothing.”