Steven Tait, head of sales and marketing at Freedom Food, says its take-up to date shows the potential for further growth of the standard in the farmed salmon sector
The relatively young salmon industry is booming. Yet despite fish being the second most common farmed animal in the UK, their welfare has been largely ignored until recently. Consumers find it difficult to empathise with the needs of a fish compared with a cuddly lamb or pig.
But scientific evidence shows that fish are able to feel pain in a similar way to other farmed animals, so the decision was taken in 2002 to launch the first RSPCA welfare standards for farmed Atlantic salmon.
The standards are based on science, coupled with practical experience, and cover every stage of a salmon's life from hatching through to slaughter. They include detailed requirements for health, feeding, management, stockmanship and slaughter. As it takes more than three years to grow each salmon, compared with 35 days for a chicken, higher welfare is clearly paramount for these farmed fish. We believe there is also a clear link between good welfare and product quality.
Like all members of Freedom Food, the salmon producers are subject to rigorous annual assessments by specially trained assessors and random spot checks by RSPCA farm livestock officers. Further traceability checks are carried out on all labelled products - where a Freedom Food assessor will pick the product off the supermarket shelf and trace it back to the farm it came from to ensure it is what it says it is on the packaging.
Freedom Food has seen a massive growth in salmon members from just one in 2002, when the standards were launched, to 30 members today.
Products are available in Co-ops, Costco, Fresh and Wild, Selfridges, and also the shops at Loch Fyne and National Trust restaurants.
Tens of millions of salmon have already benefitted from the RSPCA's higher welfare standards and many more are set to benefit, so we are disappointed at the complaint to the ASA about our recent press advert. We are determined to work with the industry to improve welfare standards for the millions of fish involved.
We are confident that the ad complies with the advertising code and that we can justify the claims made.
The swimming pool concept used is an easy way for consumers to visualise the volume of water that is typically used on a Freedom Food approved salmon farm - the RSPCA welfare standards set the stocking density for salmon in the sea water phase at 15kg/m3, compared with many farms that stock at higher levels.