BBC’s insights into salmon farming were underwhelming
Dr Martin Jaffa
THE Scottish salmon farming industry has weathered yet another onslaught from television journalists. By the time you read this, it will have been long forgotten by the public. Of course, the BBC Panorama programme was never going to be fair and balanced. The title said it all – Salmon Farming Exposed – and that is what the programme makers set out to achieve.
Give or take a few images of poor doers that have been shown before, the programme didn’t really offer anything that hasn’t been said by the same industry critics on other similar TV programmes.
I suspect that many potential viewers switched over to another channel before the programme began. Certainly, many of my non-fishy acquaintances weren’t tempted to watch.
The programme began with images of salmon that had been aimed at the consumer, mainly TV adverts from Asda.
The first image of two salmon sides laid together was more interesting. This was taken from a video (on YouTube) filmed by a company called Purple Patch as part of Sainsbury’s Scottish salmon case study in 2012, which was included on Sainsbury’s website.
The video featured interviews with Ally Dingwall, Sainsbury’s aquaculture and fisheries manager, and Steve Bracken, then Marine Harvest’s business support manager.
Over nearly four minutes, the two talk about the care with which Marine Harvest (Mowi) raises salmon for Sainsbury’s.
Dingwall also talks about Sainsbury’s corporate values that are enshrined in everything they do. He says that they are not just words, but are values that they live and breathe.
Of course, the critics will say that they are just words, but interestingly, they are words that the programme makers chose to ignore, preferring to select out a couple of seconds of video of a piece of salmon for viewers to watch.
Instead, the BBC showed a clip from a rather corporate SSPO video entitled ‘Responsible and Sustainable’.
The Panorama presenter, Lucy Adams, then asked what does sustainable really mean? Is it a word simply used to boost sales?
She turned to Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a marketing expert from University College London, to help provide an answer but unfortunately he sidestepped the question.
He told the programme that consumers rarely read the label and instead look for visual clues to help make a decision. He highlighted the image from a pack of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference smoked salmon, and said the picture of a loch and a tree gave clarity, green values and was environmentally friendly.
I agree that many consumers don’t read the labels on the packs, but the main visual signal for buyers is a combination of the overall look of the pack, together with the price.
The image of the loch highlighted in the programme is unlikely to influence the choice of most consumers. This is because when the pack is displayed on the supermarket shelf, the image is hidden, because it appears on the back, not the front of the pack.
In addition, the only packs that carry such images are packs of Taste the Difference salmon and smoked salmon sold by Sainsbury’s.
Most salmon packs do not have any image at all and therefore these cannot influence consumer choice, as Dr Tsivrikos suggests.
As far as I can see, the image reproduced on Sainsbury’s packs does not persuade me of the salmon’s green or environmental credentials. It is simply a picture of a loch.
The picture is accompanied by text that states: ‘This ….salmon is reared in the cold, swift-flowing waters surrounding Scotland’s beautiful Hebridean islands’.
This doesn’t suggest either green credentials or being environmentally friendly. It’s just a statement of fact. How this image answers the question of whether the salmon is sustainable is unclear.
The reporter continued that Scottish salmon sells at a premium based in part on images of pristine lochs, and then refers to another pack of Sainsbury’s smoked salmon that says on the information box on the front of the pack: responsibly sourced from (and then the name of the production site).
Dr Tsivrikos responded that the consumer will automatically be thinking of clear water and ‘something’ territories (which I couldn’t make out even on repeated listening).
He added that this will ‘create a fantasy of something that is so pure’. I am not sure of
which fantasy world Dr Tsivrikos thinks consumers are part, but no one we know buys salmon or smoked salmon in this way.
Dr Tsivrikos appeared to set the tone for the rest of the Panorama programme, which was simply a rehash of the same old criticisms of salmon farming, none of which were put into any form of context.
The programme offered nothing new and as such it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Panorama editors now rue the day that this issue was pitched to them.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the viewing figures were not much different between the original broadcast and the repeat, which was shown at 1am the next morning!
“It wouldn’t be a surprise if the editors now rue the day that this issue was pitched to them”