How to differentiate between true organic farmed salmon and misleading marketing?

Many seafood companies wish to sdistinguish themselves by offering better quality products. Organically farmed salmon is expected to offer a high quality because many of the downsides of conventional farming are tackled: the salmon has more space (the concentrations of fish per tank can be up to half of regular fish farms), no antibiotics or pesticides are used, the feed is GMO-free, has no artificial colouring and the origin is sustainable (MSC fish).

But in an abundance of certification schemes, logo’s and claims, how do you know if the salmon is truly organically farmed?

It is important to know whether the salmon is certified by a recognised certification scheme. The requirements for organic farming are established by the European Commission and the green leaf of the EU proofs it is organic. Nationally recognised schemes are Eko (NLD), Naturland (DE), Bio Suisse (CH), Soil Association (UK), Debio (NO) and Ecocert (FR). Next to this, you will regularly find labels like Label Rouge. This label is often presented as if guaranteeing organically farmed practice, but this is not the case. The label guarantees a product of ‘higher quality than comparable products’. The guarantees it offers thereto, are very different than the requirements of organic farming.

It is not a simple task to guarantee salmon is organically farmed. Many labels and certifications should therefore be seen as using organically farmed claims as a marketing technique, rather than actually meeting the requirements of organic farming. The Freedom Food Label of the British RSPCA should also not be seen as guaranteeing organic farming. It is a standard for animal welfare. Other producers use terminology like ‘farmed in pristine water’ or ‘farmed without the usage of antibiotics, hormones or growth stimulators’. The absence of hormones or growth stimulators is however already guaranteed by European law. Antibiotics are only used in salmon farming when the sea lice are causing infections for the salmon, but never in a prophylactic way.

At times, companies have managed to get a good reputation because it started with a sustainable practice. An example is the Loch Duart farm, which used to be marked as green on the VISwijzer (our seafood rating system). Over ten years ago it was known as an innovative salmon farming company, but the level of sustainability the company offers now is unclear. Some factors indicate the standard offered by this company is not what it used to be, for instance by exceeding the allowable level of sea lice by three times as much.

Responsibly farmed salmon is mostly ASC certified nowadays. This differs from organic, because ASC specifically applies criteria to sustainability. ASC sets more concrete, measurable criteria. The organic standard sets more stringent criteria regarding feed and animal welfare than the ASC standard. ASC salmon is therefore lower in price. Good Fish Foundation recommends both farmed salmon with an ASC certification as well as salmon with a recognised organic logo.


Image courtesy of Norwegian Seafood Council.