People or organizations who produce incorrect or misleading 'evidence' against fish farming need to be met with firm action, even to the point of being taken to court. This is one of the messages delegates to the AquaVision 2004 conference will hear in June.
"In some cases, such as the most recent attack on salmon farming from a group in the U.S., the industry needs to be prepared to fight back," says Alfons Schmid, Food Safety and Consumer Health vice president for Royal Ahold, the international supermarket group.
"If you're confronted with an absolute inaccuracy and the other side is unwilling to even talk about it, take your critics to court and let everybody know that you're right.
"Fish is a very healthy food, which farmers are producing at a time when the world food debate is becoming increasingly focused on obesity and the need to provide people with a more balanced diet. That's the message that needs to be communicated to consumers. If the industry's opponents tell a different story, based on unscientific data or biased interpretations, they must be met with a tough response.
"Obviously, if real problems are brought to light then they must be dealt with by the industry. That has happened on many occasions in the past and for many different types of food. What isn't acceptable is the sort of attack that we've seen in recent months, which has damaged a good industry on seemingly inadequate data and with questionable conclusions."
Mr Schmid was speaking after accepting an invitation to address AquaVision2004, the aquaculture industry's leading business conference, which is due to be held in Stavanger, Norway, between June 22 and 24.
He also warned, however, that his conference message will not be all easy listening for fish farmers, despite his views concerning their unfair critics.
"One issue on which I myself am critical is the continuing lack of consumer-led reality within the aquaculture industry," he said. "The sector needs to become much more aware of what consumers want in terms of fish products and more aware of what consumers don't want."
He also promised not to hide from producer attacks on supermarket pricing policies.
"Prices are set by competition at the retail point," he said. "It's therefore up to producers, not retailers, to create a competitive advantage that will justify a realistic price for all supply chain players."
Mr Schmid's AquaVision2004 presentation will be part of a 'Facts and Fallacies' session planned for Thursday, June 24, when a number of speakers will explore the perception of modern aquaculture as held by consumers, citizens and the media.
The overall theme of AquaVision2004 is 'Making modern aquaculture the sustainable Blue Revolution'. First held in 1996, the event attracts a global audience of 300–400 business, consumer, environmental and political leaders, providing a prominent industry platform for those with strong views to state. The commitment this year is to 'confront the issues that concern the industry, lifting the lid on challenge and clearing the vision on opportunity'.