Mowi rejects BBC’s medicine claims

Mowi Scotland communications director Ian Roberts

SCOTLAND’S biggest salmon farmer, Mowi, has rejected claims being made in a BBC programme that it was subject to unannounced visits by Scotland’s environmental watchdog.

The makers of Panorama issued a press release this afternoon saying the programme ‘reveals multiple Scottish salmon farming companies’ are under investigation for possible misreporting of chemical use.

However, Mowi, one of the firms involved, said the visits by SEPA, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, were part of a six-month audit that began last October.

The company denied any wrongdoing and said it used medications sparingly. The chemicals used in the fish farm industry include hydrogen peroxide baths and emamectin benzoate, which is put in the salmon’s feed.

But spending on medicinal treatments on farms has dropped 47 per cent in three years, according to the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO).

Ian Roberts, head of communications at Mowi Scotland, told Panorama: ‘We have confidence in what we’re reporting for medications, it is used sparingly; we of course vaccinate our fish to protect them from fish health challenges.

‘And we have confidence in the numbers that we’re providing so of course we’re supporting SEPA in their audit, which has been ongoing for six months and involving the industry.’

SEPA is stepping up its inspections of salmon farms following criticism from environmental campaigners, and is due to publish new guidelines on salmon farming in the next two weeks.

These will also enable farms to increase their biomass in certain circumstances, helping the industry to meet its targets for growth.

Terry A’Hearn, chief executive of SEPA, said: ‘If companies do the right thing, then they have nothing to worry about.

‘If companies do the wrong thing, we’re there to find that out and make sure they improve their game. If that’s going to take tough action, you can be assured we’ll take it.’

SEPA’s audits of the Scottish salmon sector began last year at the same time as Interpol launched a global operation to investigate marine pollution. Environmental agencies and law enforcement have since conducted 5,200 inspections in 58 countries.

A Mowi spokesman said the audit by SEPA had begun last October, and was continued this year, with visits announced in advance. The company said it provided the BBC with evidence to prove it was notified of the visits.

The timing of the follow-up appearances by SEPA coincided with the making of tonight’s Panorama programme, for which SEPA chief executive Terry A’Hearn was interviewed.

Roberts defended Mowi’s environmental credentials: ‘I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought that we had a strong negative impact on the environment.

‘It is farming at the end of the day, so, no matter what you’re farming, you have some level of impact. We also need to manage these local impacts around the farms.’

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the SSPO, said: ‘Sustainable growth is in everybody’s interests. We want consumers, we want the public and anybody with an interest in Scottish salmon to be confident that the salmon farming sector is doing absolutely everything that it can to grow sustainably.’

Panorama’s press release quotes a spokesman for SEPA saying: ‘In November 2018, we created a new SEPA enforcement unit to ensure compliance is non-negotiable.

‘In addition to continuous review of data from a variety of sources and conducting enhanced environmental monitoring, officers are engaged in a programme of unannounced visits to confirm compliance with regulatory requirements.’

Panorama: Salmon Farming Exposed, tonight at 8.30pm, BBC One