Australia’s major supermarket chains have been accused of potentially false, misleading or deceptive conduct over sustainability claims on Tasmanian salmon products, according to a complaint lodged with the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC).
Acting on behalf of Living Oceans Society, Neighbours of Fish Farming, the Bob Brown Foundation and Ekō, lawyers at the Environmental Defenders Office have argued that broad, unqualified claims like “Responsibly Sourced” may constitute greenwashing and have the potential to mislead consumers about the environmental harms of Tasmanian salmon.
VIEW the COMPLAINT here: bit.ly/ACCC_complaint
The complaint is the latest in escalating pressure facing the salmon industry and supermarkets over fish farmed in Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour, the last home of the endangered Maugean skate. The complaint argues that Coles, Woolworths and ALDI may be misleading consumers about the sustainability of their salmon products by omitting that around 10% of Tasmanian salmon is sourced from Macquarie Harbour farms. Licences for salmon farms on the harbour were renewed by the EPA for a further two years on Thursday.
Recent Australian Government conservation advice related to the Maugean skate pinpoints salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour as causing the main impact on the threatened Maugean skate. It states the salmon farming operations are a “very high risk” threat that is “almost certain to impact the Maugean skate throughout the entire harbour” with “catastrophic” consequences.
The ACCC complaint also follows demands from more than 56,000 people urging the supermarkets to stop sourcing salmon from Macquarie Harbour, and the extraordinary intervention of more than 80 organisations from around the globe calling for seafood accreditation schemes to revoke their ‘sustainability’ certifications for salmon farmed in Macquarie Harbour.
Kirsty Ruddock, Managing Lawyer at the Environmental Defenders Office, said:
“When a company makes false claims about its products, it wrongfully gains a competitive advantage by misleading customers who want to do the right thing. Our clients allege ALDI, Coles and Woolworths may have used misleading or deceptive statements to capitalise on the public’s strong preference to buy sustainably farmed salmon.
“Such conduct, if proven, is clearly unlawful. There is very strong evidence that fish farming practices in Macquarie Harbour where some of this salmon is being produced are far from sustainable. In fact, it is well established that unsustainable farming practices in that waterway have seriously degraded water quality which is pushing the endangered Maugean skate towards extinction.”
Nish Humphreys, Senior Campaigner at consumer group Ekō, said:
“Supermarkets are selling extinction in their salmon products, but have the audacity to label it sustainable. Consumers have a right to know if the salmon they’re buying could be responsible for the first extinction of a shark or ray in modern times.
“Instead Coles, Woolworths and ALDI are trying to persuade consumers that their salmon products are ‘responsibly sourced’. Time is ticking for the Maugean skate but also for the credibility of the major supermarkets unless they clean up their salmon supply.”
Kelly Roebuck, SeaChoice representative from Living Oceans, said:
“Marketing extinction as ‘responsible’ and ‘best practice’ is greenwashing at its worst.
“The supermarkets and the certifications they defer to were made fully aware of the scientific evidence, including the Australia Government’s Conservation Advice, that salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour is having a major impact on the ancient Maugean skate. Yet no urgent due diligence by way of removing the product from shelves, or at the very least the removal of environmental claims, has been taken by the supermarkets or certifications to date. An extinction risk should not be treated as business as usual.”
Jessica Coughlan, campaigner at Neighbours of Fish Farming, said:
“There is nothing “responsible” about intensively farming fin fish in Macquarie Harbour, given the history of environmental damage, due largely to a massive expansion of industry, which will take years to repair. The most responsible action that can be taken right now is to remove salmon and trout farms from the harbour, and supermarkets should not otherwise be allowing this product onto the shelves under their sustainable seafood policies.
“Shoppers deserve to know the real impacts of the food they are buying, or they too become complicit in the extinction of a species that has survived longer than many animals on this earth today. Supermarkets are actively deceiving shoppers via their sustainable seafood policies by selling this product.”
Alistair Allan, Marine Campaigner at the Bob Brown Foundation, said:
“For far too long Tasmania’s salmon companies have got away with presenting themselves as ‘clean’ and ‘green’; the reality is that Tasmanian salmon is directly responsible for pushing an animal to the brink of extinction. Consumers should know that when they are buying salmon, it’s the equivalent of buying shark fins or rhino horn”
Nick Haines | 0490 339 868 | [email protected]
Jessica Coughlan | 0431684741 | [email protected]
Background for editors:
- Many Tasmanian salmon products sold in supermarkets have “Responsibly Sourced” and/or “Best Aquaculture Practice” logos and claims. Tasmanian salmon products can include those sourced from Macquarie Harbour.
- Recent Australian Government conservation advice calls for salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour to be urgently destocked due to being a “catastrophic” threat to the Maugean skate. The skate is at risk of becoming the first shark or ray in modern times to go extinct as a direct result of human activity. It is likely to be uplisted by the Federal Government to ‘critically endangered’ in 2024.
- In August 2023, letters were sent from civil society organisations to Coles, Woolworths and ALDI to draw their attention to the scientific evidence associating the extinction risk to the Maugean skate with Macquarie Harbour salmon farms; and the risk their salmon products were not responsibly sourced.
- The complaint includes examples of “Responsibly Sourced” farmed salmon sold by Coles, Woolworths, ALDI, and Tassal and “Best Aquaculture Practices” by Petuna branded products sold in supermarkets. Farmed salmon certifications also implicated include the BAP and GLOBALG.A.P. schemes who continue to endorse Macquarie Harbour farms.
- Macquarie Harbour contributes approximately 10% of Tasmania’s salmon haul. Although point of origin can be traced by the supermarkets this information is not available to customers.
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