COP26’s ‘local and sustainable’ menu sparks farmed salmon debate

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Monty Rakusen
Image: Getty/Monty Rakusen

Related tags Salmon salmon farming Seafood

The UN’s climate change conference that will soon kick off in Scotland has unveiled a ‘climate friendly’ menu with a focus on locally sourced dishes produced using environmentally friendly practices.

Most of the ingredients used on the menu are sourced from within 100 miles of the event in Glasgow. Overall, 95% of the food will be from the UK, largely sourced from Scotland, and be seasonal. “This will put sustainability at the heart of catering for the summit, reducing emissions and promoting environment-friendly food production,”​ the organisers said.

Ingredients will be replicated across the conference’s menus to ensure produce can be repurposed for other meals, if necessary, to avoid food waste. The cups used to serve drinks will be reusable, which will save an estimated 250,000 single use cups.

“As well as providing great tasting and nutritious food, our menus are focused on local and seasonal sourcing, with a plant-forward approach,”​ said Kevin Watson, Business Director, SEC Food.

Suppliers include Edinburgh’s Mara Seaweed, which produces abundant and sustainable seaweed which does not require fertilizer, fresh water or soil to grow. Carrots and potatoes come from farmer Benzies, which uses wind turbines to power its cool storage, biomass to provide heating and actively recycles the water it uses.

There will even be a Scottish fusion to certain international dishes such as the ‘Scotch beef ramen’.

A preview of what's on the menu at the COP26 climate summit

Each menu item has an estimate of its carbon footprint. For example, the Scottish beef burger – made combining beef, root vegetables and oats -- has a carbon footprint of 3.3kg C02e. SEC Food’s standard burger would have produced over 5kg of CO2e.

Vegan campaigners complained there weren’t enough plants on the menu. Fairr, an investor network looking at standards in the food sector, said: “Highlighting the importance of plant-based food is positive - but it's a shame not to have chosen a fully plant-based menu. Animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of emissions. The importance of cutting down cannot, and should not, be understated.”

Others felt a menu dominated by plant-based ingredients was a missed opportunity to showcase sustainable Scottish fish, meat and dairy products. After all, not all plant-based food is equally advantageous for the planet's health and not all meat, fish and dairy is equally bad.

Salmon farming: sustainable solution or environmental disaster? 

Elsewhere, the menu came under wraps for featuring smoked salmon produced by Scottish salmon farmer Loch Duart.

Supporters claim responsible salmon farming is the only realistic way to deliver high-quality and eco-efficient protein to help meet growing global demand. Farmed salmon also boasts the lowest carbon footprint and fresh water consumption compared to the farming of chicken, pork and beef, according to the World Resources Institute.

Accredited certification bodies in Europe believe salmon farms can and are acting in a socially and responsibly manner. The Marine Stewardship Council, for example, advises consumers to avoid wild Atlantic salmon as they are 'struggling in the wild and numbers are dangerously low'. It recommends consumers choose salmon farmed in land-based aquaculture recirculating systems (RAS): technology that aims to minimise the environmental impact and maximise fish welfare of farmed salmon. 

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council claims that ASC certified salmon farms can minimise impacts on local ecosystems via, for example, carrying out impact assessments to protect birds, marine mammals and sensitive habitats; ensure they are not sighted in High Conservation Value Areas and are minimising fish escapes to an absolute minimum.

But detractors claim the salmon farming industry is linked to a host of environmental problems including algal blooms, a phenomenon that reduces oxygen in the water and causes the fish to suffocate, and sea lice infestations which can harm the salmon in the farms and have a devastatingly lethal impact on wild salmon and sea trout if they disperse from open-net salmon farms.

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland claimed Loch Duart, which operates eight sea sites and two hatcheries in Sutherland and the Outer Hebrides, is the only salmon producer to receive Scottish Government Enforcement Notices during 2021 over failure to control sea lice parasites.

S&TCS Director Andrew Graham-Stewart said: “For COP26 to serve up farmed salmon, the product of what is, in many people’s opinion, a fundamentally unsustainable industry, shows bad judgement, but to source it from a company with such poor environmental credentials is inexcusable.

“COP26 should not be endorsing a company that appears to be either incapable of maintaining or unwilling to maintain sea lice parasites within anything like acceptable levels – thus displaying scant regard for its environmental obligations.”

In response, Loch Duart said it had received Scottish Government Enforcement Notices as a direct consequence of striving 'to be the most transparent, lowest impact salmon farmer in the world'. “While self-reporting for sea lice is standard in Scottish salmon farming, Loch Duart is the only Scottish salmon farm to welcome fisheries trust representatives to verify our sea lice auditing, providing completely independent oversight,"​ a spokesperson told FoodNavigator. 

“Loch Duart employs a strategy of zero tolerance on sea lice and continually works on improving natural approaches to looking after our fish and the environment. One of our sites experienced elevated levels of lice, triggering the standard Marine Scotland response process, expected in a highly regulated sector. All our other sites continued to be successfully managed through our natural approaches to welfare, despite the challenges of rising water temperatures [sea lice thrive in warmer water, the company said]. To have raised levels of this naturally occurring parasite is devastating for the team, who go above and beyond in their care for their salmon."

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