RSPCA Freedom Food fish farmers killing seals

The RSPCA have a scheme called ‘Freedom Food‘ which their website states, ‘Freedom Food is the RSPCA’s farm assurance and food labelling scheme. It is the only UK farm assurance scheme to focus solely on improving the welfare of farm animals reared for food.  Some supermarket salmon carries a label saying it is approved by RSPCA Freedom Food yet those same fish farms are shooting seals.

When the Helensburgh Advertiser newspaper published an article in which John Robins of the Save Our Seals Fund was quoted as saying; “When you buy Scottish farmed salmon, even RSPCA endorsed Scottish farmed salmon, you pay for bullets to shoot seals. The RSPCA responded with a letter in which they denied this claim, saying “It simply is not true.”.

On July 26th the Helensburgh Advertiser published a letter from Mr. Robins in which he spelled out the facts for the RSPCA. Here is that letter:-

IT was with total disbelief that I read the ludicrous letter from John Avizienius, deputy head of the RSPCA’s Farm Animals Department and his colleague Leigh Grant, chief executive of RSPCA Freedom Food (‘Seal shooting claim is untrue’, last week’s Advertiser).

That it took two senior RSPCA executives to come up with such rubbish is astounding.

Referring to quotes from myself in an article you published on July 5 they stated; “I (sic) am deeply shocked and saddened at Mr Robins’ accusation that people who buy ‘RSPCA-endorsed Scottish farmed salmon… pay for bullets to shoot seals.’ It simply is not true.”

Yet later in their letter they admit that Freedom Food salmon farmers are allowed to shoot seals and have accounted for 10 per cent of the seals killed under the Scottish Government seal shooting licensing scheme.

I will write this slowly using simple words in the hope that Messrs Avizienius and Grant will understand:

People (customers) go into big shops (supermarkets) and see salmon for sale.

Some of that salmon carries a label saying it is approved by RSPCA Freedom Food.

It costs a wee bit more than ordinary salmon but nice people are willing to pay more for fish produced to RSPCA standards.

A customer pays £9 for a small RSPCA- endorsed Freedom Food salmon.

The supermarket keeps £3.50 of that money and gives £5.50 to the salmon farmer. The farmer uses 50p to pay the people who work on the farm. That leaves him with £5. He sends £2.50 to head office (usually in Norway) – that’s called his profit.

The other £2.50 he uses to buy the things they use on the farm. Things like food for the fish, fuel for the boats and bullets to go in the rifle (big gun) used to shoot seals.

There is no ‘Bullet Fairy’ to magically leave ammunition under the fish farmers’ pillow.

It simply is true – some of the money people pay to buy RSPCA-endorsed farmed salmon is used to pay for bullets to shoot seals.

My claim is not untrue – it is a statement of fact.

There are other serious errors in the RSPCA letter.

The writers seem confused about the types of nets used at salmon farms. They claim that “most salmon farms use tension nets, reducing the need for other types of anti-predator (sic) control”.

Tensioned cage nets make it more difficult for seals to take a bite out of the salmon as the salmon can swim to the middle of the cage and the seal cannot push the net in far enough to grab a fish.

However these are not anti-predator nets as they allow the seals to get close enough to panic the fish and cause them stress and suffering. By allowing this, the salmon farmer fails to meet his legal obligation to protect his stock as required by the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

Indeed protecting the welfare of the salmon is the main reason the Scottish Government gives salmon farmers licenses to shoot seals.

It is impossible to shoot every seal that comes close to a farm.

The only way to fully protect the salmon is to install and maintain high strength, tightly tensioned predator exclusion nets which keep seals well away from the inner cage nets.

The RSPCA say seal exclusion nets can harm seals.

In the past some unscrupulous farmers deliberately set loose exclusion nets to entangle and drown seals.

Properly tensioned and maintained, high strength exclusion nets do not harm seals. The problem is that doing it right costs a lot of money and would eat into profit margins.

In 2011 80 per cent of salmon farmers admitted they did not use anti-predator nets.

Until they do the RSPCA should not be making the claim that seals are only shot as a last resort.

That’s a Freedom Food porky pie.

The RSPCA say that shooting one seal is still one too many. Government figures show that in 2011 at least 114 seals were killed by companies registered with RSPCA Freedom Food.

In June 2008 I asked the RSPCA to insert a clause banning seal shooting in their Freedom Food contracts with salmon farmers. Instead they set up the Salmon, Aquaculture and Seals Working Group.

Four years later they are still talking.

John F. Robins
Save Our Seals Fund

This was published in the Helensburgh Advertiser letters page on the 26 Jul 2012.

Update 16th Jan 2013:-
S&TA questions Freedom Food certification World Fishing
Freedom Foods ‘failing to crack down’ on poor salmon farming standards The Guardian

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