BBC’s in­sights into salmon farm­ing were un­der­whelm­ing

Fish Farmer - - Contents – Editor’s Welcome - BY DR MARTIN JAFFA

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”

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