Campaigners are set to lodge a legal complaint over the use of the word ‘sustainable’ by the Scottish salmon farming industry - which, they claim, is “greenwashing”.

The charity Wildfish and the Coastal Communities Network Scotland (CCN) will today submit a dossier of complaints to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which is currently investigating green claims by food and drinks companies.

In their submission, the coalition cite examples of use of the term 'sustainable' by the industry body Salmon Scotland, as well as listing impacts on the environment and wildlife.

Rachel Mulrenan, Scotland Director at WildFish, said: “As the CMA recognises, in the minds of consumers a ‘sustainable’ product is one which has a positive environmental impact, or at least no adverse impact.

"As our complaint makes clear, the Scottish salmon farming industry can make no such claim – from the unsustainable use of wild fish to feed farmed-salmon, to the dispersal of toxic chemicals into Scottish sea lochs, to the negative impact on protected species such as wild Atlantic salmon, this is an inherently unsustainable industry producing an unsustainable product.”

Among the statements it draws attention to are some published on Salmon Scotland’s website. One, for instance, a response to the Scottish Government’s Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture, observes that “the fish grown sustainably in the sea off the west coast and the islands are one of the most nutritious foods to eat given their high protein and vitamin D levels.”

Another features on a page covering the Code of Good Practice for Finfish Aquaculture, in which the trade body notes, “Scottish aquaculture products meet the high-quality standards consistent with current and future sustainable development.”

Yet another is in a  news story in which Salmon Scotland heralds the fact that it has joined the Paris-based organisation Worldchefs “as demand increases at home and abroad for fresh, nutritious and sustainable salmon in restaurants”.

The unsustainable impacts highlighted in the dossier include, says Wildfish, “The negative impact of parasites and escaped fish from Scottish salmon farms on wild salmon; high mortality rates on the farms; unsustainable use of other fish species as parasite ‘cleaner fish’; increasing use of antibiotics on Scottish salmon farms.”

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John Aitchison, spokesperson for CCN, said: “Many Scottish coastal communities have realised how much harm salmon farming can do. Jobs in these communities depend on the sea being clean and healthy, so it is no surprise that this industry has lost its social licence to operate. Every salmon farm is allowed to discharge all its excrement and pesticides into the sea.

"They all release parasitic sea lice that can threaten wild salmon and sea trout. They bring feed ingredients from across the globe and then fly much of their produce to the USA and the Far East. To make matters worse, this industry wants to double production by 2030, despite farmed fish mortality spiralling upwards, driven by climate change-enhanced diseases and parasites, and the inhumane treatments it administers for these problems. To call any of this behaviour ‘sustainable’ is unacceptable.”

The salmon farming industry is not new to criticisms about its sustainability claims. In 2019, the Scottish producer Loch Duart stopped advertising itself as ‘sustainable’, following an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

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Earlier this year, the CMA announced, following its investigation into the fashion industry,  that it would be investigating green claims made by companies in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods sector, which includes food and drink products. 

The complaint also comes in the wake of news that Salmon Scotland is applying to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for its protected name to be changed from ‘Scottish farmed salmon’ to ‘Scottish salmon’. It said that “the term farmed has become redundant” since nearly all salmon produced in Scotland is farmed.

This move has been criticised by environmental and welfare NGOs and campaigners. Ms Mulrenan said: “As sustainability issues become increasingly important for consumers, we have here not one, but two ways in which the Scottish salmon farming industry is attempting to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes."

A spokesperson for Salmon Scotland said: “We have been in touch with the CMA who tell us they have yet to receive anything from these groups. This is simply the latest stunt from two anti-salmon organisations that are campaigning to ban the Scottish salmon sector, which would wipe out thousands of jobs, decimate coastal communities and jeopardise sustainable economic growth for Scotland.”