02 December 2004

S2M-2096 Aquaculture

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The first item of business today is a debate on motion S2M-2096, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on a sustainable aquaculture industry, and three amendments to the motion.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome this debate, which is on a subject that is important to many communities in Scotland. Fish farms are vital for many rural areas that have few other options. In my constituency, they provide the high-quality raw material that processors in Fraserburgh and Peterhead convert to the products that we see with so much pleasure on our supermarket shelves. My face lights up when I go home at the weekend and open the fridge to find that my wife has been to Downie's to get one of its fish pies, which are like Scotch pies, except that they are filled with fish. They are just wonderful for the palate but even better for the health of the people who eat them. I welcome the presence of salmon on our Parliament menus, as does my colleague Fergus Ewing. It is just a shame that today coley, rather than salmon, is on the menu.

I worked as a water bailiff when I was a student in 1968—one of the many industries of which I have experience. Even then, on the east coast, the catches of salmon had dropped catastrophically, long before any interaction with our salmon farms could have been of influence.

Robin Harper: That is the case, but do we kick a man when he is down? Do we say that stocks have dropped to the point at which it does not matter what we do, because they are going to disappear anyway, or do we do everything that we can to conserve them?

Stewart Stevenson: Of course we have to conserve the stocks. There is no division in the Parliament about that; the division is about the means and the influences that are affecting adversely or beneficially our ability to do so. There is no substantial proven link between the escapes from fish farms and the depletion of the natural stock. I would be interested to hear of academic studies that show different. I will say more about the academic world later, but I wish to make an important point in which to anchor much of what I am going to say: our salmon is safe. In fact, I am probably at greater risk from the contaminants that reside on the skin of the slice of lemon that sits on top of my smoked salmon than I am from the salmon.

The way in which the media deal with science illustrates the problem. To get into the press, a scientific story has to be about something new. It has to contain an element of conflict, otherwise it is just a good-news story and will get a few column inches inside. It has to have an element of public interest, with a threat or a malign influence.

Alex Johnstone: Does the member agree that the bad-news story about salmon became news only when it found a supporter in the Parliament?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree that that certainly gave legs to a story that should have died on the first day.

I ask members to think about some of the stories that get into the press. The Raelian cult claimed to have cloned humans and the story went on for two weeks. There is a wonderful website that has been—I hesitate to use the vernacular, so I will not—criticising our salmon industry. On another page, it claims that a seafood diet is

"A Sure Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis".

It says:

"No one needs to suffer from arthritis ... In three months of the daily seafood diet, you'll be rid of your arthritis."

That is a ludicrous claim, although I would love to believe that it was true.

Of course, many environmental groups are anything but environmental. For example, the United States Postal Service has shown that Greenpeace and the Sierra Club account for nearly half of the 4 million kilograms of tossed-out junk mail that environmental groups distribute each year.

In the brief time that remains, I turn to the report that was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report starts with a clue to the poverty of its scientific method. In the abstract, it says:

"the potential human ... risks of farmed salmon consumption have not been examined rigorously."

That is its claim, but none of the 32 references that it provides goes back more than three years. As a piece of reference research, the report is condemned out of its own mouth on that point alone. Had it been properly refereed, that sort of thing would have been flushed out and dealt with. Even that paper has to concede that

"Individual contaminant concentrations in farmed and wild salmon do not exceed U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action or tolerance levels".

The key thing is that the paper does not compare farmed salmon with other foodstuffs. The reality is that it is basically much the same, although, yes, there is a problem with polychlorinated biphenyls, which has to be addressed.

I have confidence in the industry to the extent that I ate the food that a fish farm was feeding to its fish when the Environment and Rural Development Committee visited Lochaber—Jamie McGrigor will attest to that. My trust in the industry goes beyond just eating the fish.


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