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).
Lead Image – ACCC Complaint (Image taken from Woolworths website20 on 4 October 2023 )
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.
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.
“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,” said Kirsty Ruddock, managing lawyer at the Environmental Defenders Office.
“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”.
“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,” said Nish Humphreys, senior campaigner at consumer group Ekō.
“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”.
“Marketing extinction as ‘responsible’ and ‘best practice’ is greenwashing at its worst,” said Kelly Roebuck, SeaChoice representative from Living Oceans. “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.”
“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,” said Jessica Coughlan, campaigner at Neighbours of Fish Farming.
“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”.
“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,” said Alistair Allan, marine campaigner at the Bob Brown Foundation.
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