The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has revealed it was paid more than £500,000 by Scottish salmon farmers for membership of an ethical food scheme.
The charity admitted the money was received this year from 150 farms — about 60% of the industry — who have signed up to RSPCA Assured, a food label dedicated to farm animal welfare.
The disclosure has triggered fresh criticism of the RSPCA for supporting salmon farming amid claims that millions of fish suffer despite the industry’s efforts to improve standards.
This weekend, naturalist Chris Packham, a vice-president of the RSPCA, said he intends to raise concerns with the charity’s top executives. In a tweet to his 386,000 followers, he wrote: “Open cage salmon farming is fraught with very serious issues and clearly needs reform/regulation/cessation. I will liaise with @RSPCA_official to work urgently towards a renewed position from their POV. I’m on it!”
Under the RSPCA scheme, salmon farms pay an annual membership — currently £583 — and a quarterly licence fee based on the amount of produce sold in the UK. Last year, about 150,000 tons of farmed Scottish salmon was produced, about half of which was exported.
According to figures that will be published later this year, RSPCA Assured generated a total income of more than £3.3m in 2019-20. The charity does not usually provide a breakdown of income by sector but released data following a request from this newspaper.
The figures show that of the £3.3m, salmon farms in Scotland contributed £513,000, 15% more than in 2018 (£446,481) and 9% more than in 2017 (£468,808).
Critics argue the charity’s support of salmon farming is unsustainable because millions of fish die every year from sea-lice infestations and disease. It has been challenged for not publishing a list of farms certified under the scheme or robust data to enable scrutiny of whether it has improved husbandry on Scottish fish farms.
“It’s great that the RSPCA wants to improve welfare standards in fish farming, but they need to be driving standards up and we cannot see any evidence of that,” said Bob Elliot, director of Scottish animal welfare charity OneKind. “The level of fish deaths is eye-watering.”
T he RSPCA said the scheme benefits tens of millions of fish every year, with members subject to inspections to ensure minimal suffering of animals.
A spokeswoman said that last year one Scottish salmon farm was suspended for “non-compliance”. “RSPCA Assured is a charity and non-profit-making,” she added. “All income is ploughed back into the running of the scheme and promoting farm animal welfare.”