Soil Association pushes back against criticism of organic salmon

The Soil Association has pushed back against calls by NGOs for it to stop certifying Scottish farmed salmon.

Earlier this week, more than 30 Scottish community groups, UK NGOs and international campaigning organisations called on the Soil Association to stop certifying Scottish farmed salmon as organic.

An open letter, signed by groups including WildFish, Coastal Communities Network and Blue Marine Foundation, was sent to the CEOs of the Soil Association and Soil Association Certification in response to the organisation’s public consultation on its updated organic fish farming standard.

The letter highlights what it calls the negative environment, welfare and sustainability issues linked to the salmon farming industry in Scotland, and argues that these impacts are fundamentally at odds with organic farming.

Rachel Mulrenan, Scotland Director of environmental charity WildFish, said, “So-called ‘organic’ Scottish salmon is a misnomer. 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.

“‘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 build-up of sea lice parasites, which can spread to, and prove fatal for, wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout.”

However, a Soil Association spokesperson said, “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. 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.”

Soil Association Certification currently certifies 18 sea water and 12 freshwater sites (including hatcheries).

In September 2023, WildFish published a report on certification which found that schemes such as Soil Association Organic are potentially misleading consumers on the environmental and welfare credentials of certified farmed salmon.

The Wildfish claims were undermined however when undercover footage (released with the report) was found to have been inaccurately identified. Wildfish believed the footage – which showed salmon suffering from deformities and disease – were organic fish. However, despite the site being an organic-certified farm, the fish at that time were not being managed organically. Only fish that have been managed organically for their entire lifetime can carry the organic logo.

A Soil Association Certification spokesperson said, “Wild Fish has inadvertently identified salmon featured in its report from a farm visit to Invasion Bay in June 2023 as organic. They are not. Soil Association organic standards do not stand for animal suffering. The fish stock filmed do not have organic status and would never be labelled as such to consumers. However, the site remains registered with the Soil Association and may produce organic fish at a later date if all standards requirements are met.”

More information on Soil Association standards:

* Organic operators are required to provide a plan for how they will minimise the impact of their farming operations on the aquatic environment, including on wild salmon, sea trout and cleaner fish populations. Lower stocking densities and higher welfare for salmon is a key part of this, including the requirement to proactively reduce the risk of sea lice and disease impacting wild species.
* The health and welfare of cleaner fish being used with organic salmon is already part of the organic standards, but our current standards review is proposing to introduce specific requirements that ensure best practice for cleaner fish as well as protecting their welfare.

Medicine use

* Organic aquaculture farmers are permitted to use a restricted list of veterinary products to protect the health and welfare of the animal when there is an identified risk, such as a parasite like sea lice. These can only be used as a last resort, and our licensees also need to be able to demonstrate they have taken other measures before resorting to these medicines. Medication must also be administered under the control of a veterinary surgeon. It is essential that farmers can follow veterinary advice to treat their animals to ensure animal welfare and prevent suffering. However, vet treatments are highly restricted in organic farming as producers must take – and be able to demonstrate – a preventative approach where animals must have more space and be kept in conditions that reduce the likelihood of parasites and disease. For biological control of ectoparasites, preference shall be given to the use of cleaner fish and to the use of freshwater, marine water and sodium chloride solutions.

* The Soil Association is concerned about the impacts of chemical parasite veterinary treatments, and we have banned avermectins and organophosphates within our standards, due to the impact on the aquatic environment and human health. The use of deltamethrin is very strictly controlled and our licensees must be able to demonstrate that it is only being used as the last resort to protect the welfare of the farmed fish and it is used in a way that treats the affected fish with minimum impact on the wider marine environment.


* Organic fish farmers must follow strict rules on feed to minimise their impact on the environment and food chain while balancing the dietary needs of their animals. The Soil Association requires its licensees to source salmon feed from trimmings of sustainable fish already caught for human consumption, from organic plant or animal-derived feed materials, or in limited circumstances from whole fish from sustainable fisheries. Waste trimmings are the preferred and most used option in organic feeds. In certain cases whole fish may be used to protect the welfare of the farmed fish and when the trimming market cannot provide for this. These must be from fisheries who can demonstrate they source wild fish sustainably through certification to the Marine Stewardship Council or Marin Trust standards. The Soil Association supports these fisheries for feed only when they are essential to the health and welfare of farmed fish, used responsibly and efficiently, and do not compete with the human food supply chain – ultimately leaving more wild fish in the sea.


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