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Virtue Signalling. Salmon & Science.

Updated: Feb 21, 2019

This phenomenon has been with us too long. Someone said it is now “past its sell-by date”. It is a human ‘vanity’ that has become a corporate con – trying to take the moral high-ground and polarize the good from the bad.

One of the first (and worst) was devised to try and silence the food critics who lambasted Whole Foods for their use of super-processed ingredients and sugars:

Whole Foods:

“We are part of a growing consciousness that is bigger than food — one that champions what’s good.”

Yuck. But you would think the Salmon industry would have learned from this and at least become a bit more nuanced in their approach to PR. Not so…

MOWI tell us:

Scotland’s salmon farmers have some of the strongest credentials of all the farming sectors, particularly with regards to sustainability.

Oh, OK then. And there’s more….

Loch Duart:

We are an extraordinary Salmon producer. We also work hard to be a good neighbour by supporting our local community in Sutherland.

Local ‘worthiness’. Great? But The Scottish Salmon Company take this a step further:

Scottish Salmon Company:

We play an active role in supporting local communities through sponsoring events and activities which benefit children, health and general well-being.

And Scottish Sea Farms even have a “Grants Trust”:

The broad aim of the Heart of the Community Grant Trust is to provide financial grants for community projects that deliver lasting change within the regions in which the Company operates.

Brace yourself for possibly the most worthy. It gets the most "Likes" on Facebook:

Cooke aquaculture:

Cooke Aquaculture were pleased to make a donation to the Orkney Samaritans.

We’re proud to be able to sponsor the newly formed North Isles Netball team.

There isn’t the time here to inflict any more of these upon you.

If one steps back a moment with a less than cynical outlook – it all looks fine and rosy – what other business sector goes to this length to make sure these rural and coastal communities are looked after? The Government subsidise the Salmon farmers and that in turn indirectly saves the Government from the negative PR involved with handing cash directly to these sparsely populated areas.

It also silences what little voice these communities have over the environmental atrocities carried out by these companies, under the auspices of the Scottish Government and the Regulator SEPA.

The comparison, which springs to mind, is with that of the tobacco industry leading up to the famous Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). This had been brewing for years, following claims of false advertising, misleading PR campaigns, community “smoke-screens” and of course Cancer and tobacco related disease, illness and death. It was finally taken to court and was between the 4 largest tobacco manufacturers and the attorneys general of 46 US states.

The states settled their lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related health-care costs. In exchange, the companies agreed to curtail or cease certain tobacco marketing practices, as well as to pay damages. The end result was of course, to funnel even more cash into “Community Involvement Strategies”.

But the community involvement strategies and marketing devices used by these companies were identical to what Salmon companies use now. It is blatant plagiarism both of strategy and words. And what other industry does this? Even the Oil and Gas sector has dumbed down their aggressive buy-outs of public opinion in recent years.

Now, no one is saying that farmed salmon is as bad for your health as tobacco (are they? Please email if you know otherwise) but all attempts that we know of (ourselves included) to find a lab that will analyse farmed Salmon samples have failed. The excuses are surprising. They range from not being able to because they “don’t have the equipment”, even though they will run pesticide and antibiotic tests on beef - to just not answering enquiries at all. Public analysts who advertise “all parameters of analysis on food” - but not Salmon. It’s getting quite sinister. To put the old non-scientific hat on for a second, it might even appear that there is a cover-up going on. And you could end up thinking that the product might actually really be BAD for your health. It’s like not turning up for an Olympic drugs-test - you're not really helping your public image.

Of course, many opponents of farmed Salmon have been saying this for years.

But how much of this “advertising” is just PR and benign marketing, and how much is it camouflaging the unsustainable workings of the industry?

As we have found through their own admissions and from investigative work by intrepid self-funded “activists”, the reality behind these companies is much less savory than what the public is being fed.

In other words, virtue signalling is not really marketing or advertising at all. It is about making a statement in order that people, the public will approve with your product or “ethos”, rather than because you actually believe it. It’s industrial vanity camouflaged as selfless conviction.

It exists in science too. Advocates of the salmon farming industry tell us that because no scientific proof exists that the sea lice on wild fish actually came from a nearby farm, you don’t have a voice. Well, short of trying to radio-tag a louse, of course it’s going to be difficult. However, recent findings by Corin Smith suggests there are almost 4 Billion sea lice larvae produced in a single month by a typical farm with an average count of 5 lice per fish. And that shouldn’t be the responsibility of anyone other than the Salmon farming industry itself to sort out. Not the anglers or angling clubs, nor the riparian or landowners or fishing syndicates, ghillies, estate owners or managers or indeed anyone connected with making money from wild Salmon & Sea trout.

Where is the Salmon industries "virtue" here? There is a “precautionary principle” after all, and sea lice never used to be a problem on wild fish until they turned up.

And what of disease? It is getting closer to impossible to correlate disease pathways from farm to wild fish simply because there are hardly any wild fish left on the West Coast to sample. How can we get a representative sample from a chaotic model?

The salmon farm advocates are making a living from virtue signaling. They are taking the moral-high ground and casting anyone who questions their motives as “the baddie”.

Academics aren’t immune to the virtue signalling phenomenon. Don’t bother coming to them with your 40 years of “boots on the ground” knowledge or emotive anecdotes, you will be shot down. You and your whistleblowing word-of-mouth tall tales and even your PhD are irrelevant to their mission - especially if they are in receipt of government funding.

However, the emphasis on this distracts from the fact they are really saying how good they are and how their reports and websites are even better. It is amply displayed by the “selfie” culture. Pics taken; disfigured farmed salmon in arms, pics with politicians, even a selfie with a handful of plastic pellets on a beach somewhere. Does it matter that there is a mega-tonne landfill of these “nurdles” just up river when you can be seen spending your (and your employers) time signalling to others just what you are doing for mankind? Hell, they still even talk of “Saving the Planet”.

Because they are living their life on Social media they only want "positivity", never negativity. The nitty-gritty can be glossed over in a few glib references, i.e., "we don't want to go there".

If they were more open and said: ‘My findings are more correct than yours and I care about the environment more than you’ or ‘My science is better than your thousands of hours of watching fish behaviour’, then their self-aggrandisement would be revealed. It's hidden though, and it has teeth.

Real virtue is silent. You don’t have to do anything at all to earn it. It establishes itself in the “formative years” – a set of principles one learns through “right and wrong”. Goodness knows how shuttered an existence someone could have had if they rely solely on science.

And goodness knows how BAD a company or its product has to be to camouflage itself as a “pillar of the community” with hockey strips and jardinieres. And we know how they treat their employees, the Non Disclosure Agreements speak for themselves.

Thankfully, by a careful and sensible approach, from science and those ‘boots on the ground’, the camouflage is being lifted. Let’s just hope the “polluter pays" after all.

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