Salmon & Trout Association reports Sainsbury’s to Advertising Standards – and gets apology

The Salmon and Trout Association Scotland (S&TAS) today, 20th May, filed a formal complaint against Sainsbury’s over the supermarket’s erroneous claims concerning the geographic origin of and doubts over ‘responsible’ claims made for its Taste the Difference Scottish farmed salmon.

The complaint was addressed to both the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Trading Standards as it relates both to the packaging of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Scottish farmed salmon products (the remit of Trading Standards); and the claims made about those products on the Sainsbury’s website (the remit of the ASA).

Packaging of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference salmon bought in January and April 2013 states that the fish:

‘are reared in sheltered, fast-flowing seawater locations around the Isles of Skye, Lewis and Uist’.

In fact, the individual farms specified on the packaging are all located in rather less ‘fast-flowing’ locations in Loch Fyne in Argyll, on the Scottish mainland.

Sainsbury’s website also says that its supplier of salmon is Marine Harvest. In fact, the farms listed are owned and operated by The Scottish Salmon Company, one of Marine Harvest’s main competitors.

The Sainsbury’s packaging states that the salmon is ‘responsibly sourced’ although there is no explanation as to what ‘responsibly sourced’ means.

Sea-lice numbers on farmed fish in excess of industry thresholds, benthic pollution with sea-lice treatment chemicals in excess of Environmental Quality Standards, escapes of farmed fish, unsatisfactory organic pollution of the sea-bed with uneaten food and faeces and farmed salmonid diseases have all been recorded in Loch Fyne.

Claims are made on the Sainsbury’s website about ‘responsible sourcing’ that are ill-defined, but seek to afford the product credibility regarding environmental performance which cannot be verified by the customer, contrary to UK Government guidance on such claims.

Guy Linley-Adams, Solicitor to the S&TA Aquaculture Campaign, says: ‘The S&TAS complaint shows that it is time for the supermarkets to take responsibility for what they are selling and how they market it. This complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards is about Sainsbury’s and the claims made on its packaging and on its website.

‘Quite apart from issues of identifying exactly where its farmed salmon comes from, the S&TAS believes Sainsbury’s must substantiate its ‘responsible sourcing’ assertions with hard facts about named farms and not just general assurances. Without this, discerning consumers may not have confidence in what they are being asked to buy.

‘Sainsbury’s are not alone in failing to come clean about their Scottish farmed salmon products. Claims by other supermarkets of salmon being ‘responsibly farmed’ or ‘responsibly sourced’ are vague and inadequate. The supermarkets clearly know there is an issue here – after all, we don’t see ‘responsibly farmed’ sweetcorn or tinned tomatoes on the supermarket shelves, do we?’

Hughie Campbell Adamson, Chairman of S&TA Scotland, says: ‘Supermarkets have a duty to be honest and transparent about the food they sell. Farmed salmon, grown in open-net marine cages, can come at a heavy environmental cost, not least in its impact on wild salmon and sea trout. We do not need ‘greenwash’ or vagueness here. We need hard data against which to judge these farms.

‘For example, we believe that Sainsbury’s should now require all the farms from which it sources its farmed salmon – as a condition of supplying salmon to Sainsbury’s – to publish weekly farm-specific sea-lice parasite counts against which claims made by the fish-farmers can be properly assessed.’

Sainsbury’s was quick to throw in the towel, saying that an error had been made in the packaging:

‘”Unfortunately, there has been an error in the information on the packaging of some our Taste the Difference salmon products in recent months. We are now resolving this and sincerely apologise to customers, who can be reassured that there has been no impact on our industry-leading sourcing standards.’

Below are the S&TAS official complaint against Sainsbury’s in this matter and annexed material:

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