Campaigners expose the dark secret of Sainsbury’s “bespoke” salmon diet

12 Nov 2020 Fishing the Feed

Sainsbury’s claims its ‘bespoke diet’ is ‘designed to protect our natural resources from over-fishing’, but fails to live up to its commitments

Supermarket Sainsbury’s describes itself as ‘leading the way in sustainable fish’ (1). However, its farmed salmon – one of its major seafood sellers (2) – fails to match up to its own sustainability claims according to campaigners from Changing Markets and Feedback. Their research shows that the feed Sainsbury’s farmed salmon is fed has damaging environmental and social impacts. They also highlight wider concerns over business practices of Mowi, the Norwegian-owned global salmon farming giant, which is Sainsbury’s main supplier (3).

Sainsbury’s farmed salmon packaging states: ‘The salmon are fed a bespoke diet designed to protect our natural resources from overfishing and guarantee great taste and nutritional benefit for you’ (4). But Feedback calculates that in 2019, Mowi used 880,000 tonnes of wild fish, sourced from countries such as Mauritania and Peru, to produce just 436,000 tonnes of farmed salmon (5) – more wild fish than the total fisheries capture of Canada, at 720,000 tonnes in 2018 (6).

More sustainable feed options, such as using non-fish ingredients, or by-products from fish that was caught for human consumption, do exist, but neither Mowi nor Sainsbury’s has adopted a policy to phase out wild fish in its salmon feed. Earlier this year, Sainsbury’s ranked 6th of the UK’s top ten retailers in a scorecard assessing supermarket chains’ sustainability policy on farmed seafood, below Tesco, Co-op and Lidl (7), obtaining a lowly score of 20%.

The campaigners also raised concerns about mortalities on Mowi farms in Scotland, where Sainsbury’s sources its salmon. Between January and September 2020, Mowi reported over 1.1 million salmon mortalities to the Scottish government fish inspectorate (8). This is the second highest figure of all large salmon farming companies operating in Scotland, though reporting standards varied between companies. In addition, Mowi’s Scottish farms have seen high numbers of farmed salmon escapes, 124,000 in two separate incidents this year (9), raising concerns for further impacts on Scotland’s dwindling wild salmon population, which is suffering the effects of by inter-breeding with escaped farmed salmon (10).

Natasha Hurley, Campaign Manager at Changing Markets said:

“We’re shocked at Sainsbury’s misleading claim that its farmed salmon diets prevent overfishing. This is demonstrably untrue: the reality is, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wild fish – which could feed millions of people – are ground into fish meal and fish oil just to feed farmed salmon on Mowi farms. Fishing communities in Asia and Africa are deprived of valuable protein just so that wealthier consumers in the UK can buy cheap salmon. Salmon farming is big business, but while the Sainsbury’s-Mowi partnership may be lucrative for both sides, it is a terrible deal for the health of global fisheries.”

Jessica Sinclair Taylor, Head of Policy at Feedback said:

“Sainsbury’s trumpets the fact that it only sources Scottish farmed salmon, claiming to support rural communities, but neglects to mention that its sole supplier, Mowi, is a multi-national business listed on the Norwegian stock exchange: hardly the rural fish farmers Sainsbury’s website makes out.

“Mortalities this high are a colossal waste – not just of the salmon themselves, but also of the wild fish caught to feed them. To live up to its own marketing, Sainsbury’s must commit to phasing out the use of wild-caught fish to feed its farmed fish by 2025 at the latest, and use its purchasing power to ensure that its suppliers, like Mowi, immediately take steps to comply with this commitment.”

Notes to editor

Changing Markets and Feedback’s new brief ‘The Hidden Cost of Farmed Salmon: Exploring why Sainsbury’s farmed salmon supplier Mowi doesn’t live up to its sustainable image and what Sainsbury’s needs to do about it’ is published Thursday 12th November. [URL]

  2. Farmed salmon is one of the UK’s most popular seafood products: in the 52 weeks to June 2020, UK farmed salmon sales were worth £1.1 billion. With 14.3% of the seafood retail market share, this translates into an estimated £157 million worth of yearly sales for Sainsbury’s (reference ‘Hidden Cost of Farmed Salmon’)
  3. Mowi is a vertically integrated aquaculture company and the world’s biggest salmon producer by volume and revenue. In 2019 it harvested 435,904 gutted weight tonnes of salmon, equivalent to 19% of total industry output. Headquartered in Bergen, it operates in 25 countries worldwide. It recorded a 2018 revenue of €3.8 billion.
  4. See Sainsbury’s labelling:
  5. According to its 2019 Annual Report, Mowi sourced 52,391 tonnes of fishmeal and 44,490 tonnes of fish oil for use in its aquafeed. Based on data on the volume and sources of fish oil used by Mowi, this means that Mowi’s feed production operations relied on an estimated 880,000 tonnes of wild-caught fish, in a year when the company produced 436,000 tonnes of harvested farmed salmon. To put this in context, 880,000 tonnes of wild fish is more than the 2018 global marine capture for the whole of Canada. If Mowi were to bring its usage of fishery trimmings and by-products in line with industry average of around one third of fish oil coming from trimmings, then the volume of wild-caught fish needed to produce fish oil in Mowi’s aquafeed, would still be an estimated 620,000 tonnes. This is equivalent to the total landings of fish and shellfish by the UK’s fishing fleet in 2019. This figure is calculated based on publicly available information, and data communicated in a formal response by Mowi to Feedback in September 2019. The volume of fish used to produce fish oil was calculcated using the average yield of 4.8% of fish oil from whole fish, according to the global industry body IFFO.
  7. ‘Caught out: How UK retailers are tackling the use of wild fish in their aquaculture supply chains’ was published by Feedback and Changing Markets in March 2020.
  8. All mortality numbers calculated from (downloaded 9 November 2020). The average weight of 3kg is a weighted average based on reported Mowi mortality events alone.
  9. In two standalone incidents in Scotland in 2020, in January and August, 74,000 and 50,000 salmon escaped from MOWI farms respectively


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