Waitrose and the Co-op confirm they've suspended supplies from Western Isles salmon supplier, Scottish Salmon Company.

A salmon producer with farms on the Western Isles has come under fire – only weeks after the Gazette revealed previous allegations of inhumane treatment of fish.

Saturday, 13th February 2021, 5:06 pm
Salmon farms dot the seas and bays around the Western Isles.
Salmon farms dot the seas and bays around the Western Isles.

One of the largest farmed salmon producers in Scotland, The Scottish Salmon Company (SSC), have been accused of serious welfare breaches, including leaving fish to suffocate on the floor, repeatedly coshing fish to kill them, and causing unnecessary pain and suffering by cutting live fish through the gills leaving them to bleed to death!

And, as a result of the shocking footage, supermarket chains Waitrose and the Co-op, both of whom are supplied by SSC have confirmed to the Gazette they have stopped supplies with immediate effect.

An undercover video, supplied to this paper by animal protection organisation, Animal Equality, said the footage from a slaughter facility in Arnish, on the Isle of Lewis, offered a rare and unblinkered glimpse into fish killing processes. The footage is said to be the first of its kind to be released in the UK.

A spokeswoman for the animal charity said: “A significant number of salmon were killed while fully conscious; research suggests that a fish can suffer for over seven minutes if not properly stunned."

Concerned by these findings, 70 world-leading aquatic animal specialists, welfare academics and animal protection organisations have come together to sound the alarm on this stark suffering. In an open letter addressed to ministers, signatories are calling for specific and meaningful protections to be put in place for fish and other aquatic animals at the time of death, as well as legal training requirements and frequent on-site inspections.

The undercover video documents what is said to be:

Numerous animals displaying consciousness after failure to stun, evidenced by flapping, wriggling and gasping motions;

Salmon produced by the now under-fire Scottish Salmon Company are exported around the globe.

Salmon’s gills cut without prior stunning, causing pain, and / or salmon being re-stunned with a club after their gills were cut, causing blood to spray from their gills (and defeating the purpose of pre-bleed stunning);

Salmon being clubbed multiple times, in some instances as many as seven times per animal;

Salmon’s gills torn with workers’ fingers, rather than a scalpel;

And, on occasion, a large number of animals falling to the floor and being left to suffocate.

Commenting on the exposé, Abigail Penny – Executive Director of Animal Equality UK – said: “The Government has a responsibility to farmed animals and this is an unmissable opportunity to make a landmark change. With every day the Government fails to act, thousands of fish are at risk of dying in agony.”

She added: “It’s shocking that animals slaughtered at The Scottish Salmon Company struggle like this, all for their flesh to be stacked and sold on supermarket shelves. Concerned consumers can act today by leaving fish off their plate entirely.”

Selling to major supermarkets, Waitrose and Co-op, alongside high-end retailers and premium hotels and restaurants, The Scottish Salmon Company sells across the UK. Exporting to 20 countries, the corporation has a global reach, including the Japanese and the US markets. Capitalising on public perception that Scottish salmon is synonymous with ‘higher quality’ the company even introduced a range of ‘Tartan Salmon’ products in 2016 to “represent Scottish excellence” to overseas customers, according to its CEO.

A spokeswoman for Waitrose said: “We're investigating this urgently and are conducting a physical audit at the site in the coming days, and have stopped supply from the site while we do."

The Gazette also spoke with the Co-op, who told us: “Fish welfare is a priority for Co-op and we only take salmon from approved suppliers who meet strict welfare standards. We do not tolerate unacceptable welfare practices for animals within our supply chain and in light of the seriousness of the allegations, supply has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Salmon Company hit back at the allegations branding them to be out-of-date, saying: “We are investigating an incident following receipt of an historic edited film, that shows isolated activity at our Northern harvest station. This activity does not align with our stringent welfare code of practice, and does not in any way represent the operations of the company.

“We take this matter extremely seriously and are conducting a thorough investigation into this historic incident. To assist our investigation we have requested full unedited film footage. Given our significant capital investment, training in the proper handling and humane harvesting of salmon, and supervisory and leadership approach, we believe this to be a one-off isolated incident.

"It is not representative of our strict welfare practice either today nor during 2019.

“Our harvest processing sites are subject to strict, regular audits from third party accreditation providers which ensure we meet globally-leading animal welfare standards. The harvest station has been subject to numerous audits which identified no welfare concerns.”

The company claim to have received accreditation for ‘excellence in fish husbandry and animal welfare’ standards, from a company called GlobalGap. They did not respond to requests for a statement.