THE labelling of farmed Scottish salmon as “organic” is “unacceptable greenwashing”, according to a group of charities.

In an open letter to the Soil Association – the body which certifies food as organic in the UK – 30 charities and community groups said the “negative environmental impacts” associated with both open-net salmon and trout farms were counter to the organisation’s principles.

The letter stated: “We believe the certification is a reputational risk for your organisation, misleading to consumers and an unacceptable greenwash of an inherently unsustainable industry.

“We are therefore calling for Soil Association to remove organic certification from salmon and trout farms.”

The Soil Association states that certified fish farms display high levels of animal welfare and maintain the environmental health of the surrounding aquatic environment.

READ MORE: Warming waters decimate Scottish salmon farm harvests

It comes after concerns were expressed about the level of mortalities occurring at fish farms in Scotland, with the latest data showing that 11 farms in Scotland had cumulative mortality rates of more than 20%.

Research also revealed that all publicly-listed salmon farming companies in Scotland harvested significantly less fish than predicted in 2023 due to the impact of disease, parasites, increasing water temperature and jellyfish blooms.

Rachel Mulrenan, Scotland director of marine conservation charity WildFish, said: “So-called ‘organic’ Scottish salmon is a misnomer.

“The fish are raised in the same way as all Scottish farmed salmon – in open-net cages, where all the waste from the farm flows straight into the surrounding lochs and sounds, including faeces and uneaten feed.”

She added that farms certified as organic were still permitted to use highly toxic chemicals, which may have detrimental impacts on surrounding wildlife.

The National: Salmon farm at Loch Fyne

A spokesperson for the Soil Association said they were currently reviewing their aquaculture standards.

“Organic farms must follow strict rules to minimise impacts on the environment and animal welfare, and when problems occur, they must prove they are taking action in order to use the organic logo," they said. 

“We recognise there is still much work to be done to further improve fish farming, and that is why we are working with the sector to drive improvements forward.

“Without our involvement, millions of fish would be living in worse conditions.

“We were one of the very first organisations to develop organic aquaculture standards in the 1990s and while we only work with a small percentage of fish farms, our rules are having a wider impact with many of these also being adopted by the non-organic sector.

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“But there are still many challenges to be tackled and we take all concerns seriously, which is why we are currently reviewing our aquaculture standards and we will consider all the points raised today in our open process.”

However, Tavish Scott, the director of industry body Salmon Scotland, said Scottish salmon was the best in the world and claimed the criticism was coming from “urban-based activist groups”.

He said: “As these organisations make clear in their letter, they fundamentally oppose salmon farming and are funded to campaign against our sector.

“WildFish masquerades as a conservation organisation and is actually an angling pressure group that wants to make 12,500 hard working salmon employees, who live in some of Scotland’s most remote communities, unemployed during a cost-of-living crisis.

“Scotland’s salmon farmers consistently meet the highest international standards and third-party assurance – including organic certification – will continue to play an important part in ensuring Scottish salmon remains the best in the world.

“We won’t let that global success be put at risk from a handful of urban-based activist groups.”

CORRECTION: Salmon Scotland Chief Executive Tavish Scott initially referred to there being “12,500 hard working salmon farmers” rather than "12,500 hard working salmon employees". 

However, Salmond Scotland have previously estimated the industry directly employs around 2500 people in Scotland with a further 10,000 jobs "dependent" upon it - for example, boat manufacturers or logistics workers, which they describe as "employees".