Grantham Scholar Frances Payne examines how ideas about victimhood influence how wild and farmed salmon are protected in food policy.
Globally, animals are afforded different levels of protection according to different legal regimes. Salmon are one such example. Despite belonging to the same species, farmed and wild salmon receive different levels of protection.
Due to increased pressures on wild populations of salmon, their conservation is a recognised vital concern. As the consumer demand for salmon increases, the Scottish Government proposes to double the salmon farming industry by 2030, supported by the claim that this will reduce fishing pressure on wild salmon and so contribute to a more sustainable food system. However, farmed salmon are protected by significantly lower legally enforceable welfare standards than other livestock. Indeed, the low standards of fish welfare are a major concern for several animal welfare interest groups.
With the growing need to develop democratic food systems that prioritise food security, sustainability, and animal welfare, it is critical to understand what goes into the decision-making process for policy formation. What are the priorities of different interest groups, and whose interests are prioritised in sustainability narratives?
If we are committed to developing sustainable agri-food systems, we must ask who and what we want to sustain and for whom, in order to ensure that the aims and practices of such systems are robust.
The notion of victimhood has held important weight and symbolic value in several jurisdictions, with numerous policies informed by victim-centred narratives. Moreover, academic literature indicates that the way victim status is assigned or denied impacts on who receives particular forms of protection. As pressures mount against food systems and the individuals involved, from industry workers to consumers, to farmed animals and wildlife, how the needs and interests of such individuals are viewed, and therefore, how they are protected, is at a critical nexus.
Therefore, my research examines how victim conceptualisation and the ideas of different interest groups influence how animal protection is weighted in food policy. To do this, I focus on the case of Scottish salmon.
I will look at the following questions:
(1) Exactly how and why are different victim types conceptualised in food policy development?
(2) Whose interests are being prioritised and whose are being excluded? And why?
(3) What impact are victim conceptualisation and protection narratives having on ‘sustainable’ food policy development?
(4) What alternative victim-based model might improve the way we protect animals?
In 2022 and 2023, Frances co-organised the annual symposium ‘ShARC Tales’ for Sheffield Animal studies Research Centre. The symposium brings together researchers from different disciplinary fields working on animal studies, including biodiversity, species conservation, farming, and the political and cultural representation of animals.
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