for Sunday Herald, 07 September 2014
A huge leap in imports of cheap salmon from abroad has exposed the “utter madness” of the world food trade, say environmental campaigners.
New figures released by the UK government reveal that imports of salmon from the Faroes, Sweden and elsewhere have risen ten times faster than exports. This is despite the claimed success of Scotland’s salmon export business.
The UK now imports nearly two-thirds as much salmon as it exports, often to and from the same countries. Dubbed “the great salmon swap” and denounced as “a consumer con” by critics, the trade is defended by the salmon farming industry and the Scottish government.
Detailed data disclosed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London reveal that UK imports of fresh, smoked and frozen salmon rocketed by over 500 per cent from 11,176 tonnes in 2003 to 69,328 tonnes in 2013. At the same time UK salmon exports rose just 50 per cent from 73,529 to 111,293 tonnes.
The vast majority of the imports were from the Faroe Islands and Sweden, some of which may have originated in Norway. Thousands of tonnes of salmon were also imported from, and exported to the same countries.
Nearly 2,300 tonnes of salmon were imported from Germany in 2013, while just under 2,200 tonnes were exported there. There were also large salmon swaps with China, Poland and Denmark (see tables below).
The total value of UK salmon imports in 2013 amounted to £345 million, compared to just £27 million in 2003. Over the same period the value of UK salmon exports has risen much more slowly from £198 million to £575 million.
Anti-fish farming campaigners say that rising sales of Scottish farmed salmon to the US, France, China and elsewhere are being “fuelled” by a much steeper rise in imports of cheaper, foreign farmed salmon. “The so-called success story of Scottish salmon farming is exposed as a scam, sham and consumer con,” said Don Staniford, the director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture.
“Cheap imports of farmed salmon from the Faroe Islands and Norway are flooding the UK market via processing plants and smokehouses in Sweden, Poland, Germany, Denmark and even China. Scotland is being shamelessly used to launder Norwegian farmed salmon for export to China and the US.”
John Robins from Animal Concern argued that the “utter madness” of the international trade was damaging the global economy and destroying the marine environment. “In a sane, sustainable society you produce the food you need and export any surplus,” he said. “In an insane, unsustainable society your product is profit at all costs."
Pete Ritchie, the director of the new sustainable food campaign, Nourish Scotland, said: “If the point of the food system was to nourish people sustainably, we certainly wouldn’t start from here."
The Scottish Salmon Producer’s Organisation, which represents the £600 million industry, pointed out that farmed salmon traded in an open global market. “That means the customer determines where it is sold and at what price,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Scott Landsburgh.
“The impact of that may mean that at any given time the UK will be an importer as well as exporter. It’s no different to any other food which trades in international markets.”
Scottish salmon exports were “an undoubted success story”, he argued. “We have growing demand all over the world which means we're sustainable.”
The Scottish government commended the salmon farming industry for expanding its export market. “Our salmon companies are generating economic activity here in Scotland and are securing new overseas markets,” said a government spokeswoman.
UK trade in fresh, frozen and smoked salmon
year / imports (tonnes) / exports (tonnes)
2003 / 11,176 / 73,529
2004 / 16,759 / 65,325
2005 / 29,931 / 48,583
2006 / 43,563 / 53,775
2007 / 48,050 / 60,260
2008 / 46,734 / 57,089
2009 / 52,599 / 70,796
2010 / 50,146 / 82,594
2011 / 57,003 / 96,186
2012 / 62,650 / 100,113
2013 / 69,328 / 111,293
Salmon imports and exports in 2013
country / UK imports (tonnes) / UK exports (tonnes)
Faroe Islands / 32,201 / none
Sweden / 20,672 / 3
China / 3,304 / 9,709
Germany / 2,298 / 2,194
Denmark / 2,068 / 994
Poland / 1,794 / 7,513
Norway / 1,425 / 10
US / 1,022 / 39,259
Canada / 308 / 1,288
France / 184 / 21,436
Source: HM Revenue and Customs and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The spreadsheet of UK salmon imports and exports released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can be downloaded here (213KB Excel).