Researcher analyses ten years’ worth of French newspaper articles on Norwegian salmon

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Nofima (Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture) researcher Florent Govaerts believes negative newspaper articles in French newspapers may have harmed the reputation of Norwegian salmon.

France is one of Norway’s most important salmon markets, with annual exports of around 120,000 tonnes. Norwegian players have lost market share over the past five years and fewer French consumers buy Norwegian salmon. Are negative articles in the French press to blame? Scientist Florent Govaerts wanted to find out, Nofima reported.

The researcher examined the reputation of Norwegian salmon in France by reading French newspapers over a period of ten years, from 2008 to 2018.

“We know that newspapers have an influence on what people think. Therefore, I would look at how the attitudes of the French are influenced by what is written about Norwegian salmon. It was the starting point when I sat down and started reading online newspapers,” said Florent Govaerts.

He looked at mentions of Norwegian salmon in four central newspapers: 40 articles in the left-leaning Le Monde, 43 in the conservative Le Figaro, 13 in the liberal Libération and 38 articles in the economics magazine Les Echos. The researcher also checked two popular women’s magazines, which often write about health and nutrition: Femme Actuelle and Madame Le Figaro. Systematic categorisation was used as a method for analysing the 134 articles. 63 of the articles had a negative attitude towards farmed salmon and the aquaculture industry, while 53 articles were neutral and 18 were positive.

Most focused on economy
“The biggest theme in connection with salmon was the economy. The articles largely dealt with increased salmon prices and how it affected the French smoked salmon industry. Little was written about fresh salmon. Smoked salmon, on the other hand, is a symbol of French food culture. It is an old tradition to smoke salmon, especially for Christmas. So when the newspapers write about finances, the French smoked salmon industry is presented which is adversely affected by higher prices for raw materials,” said Govaerts.

In the analysis of the French media, the researcher observed that smoked salmon producers receive significantly greater media coverage than the rest of the industry in terms of economy. Smoked salmon manufacturers are presented as very influenced by the price increase of the share price. Limited trading margins with farmers and grocery suppliers puts French smokers in a difficult position. The Norwegian aquaculture industry is criticized in the media because of prices that are too high and production which is too low. That said, the connection is not always presented, for example why access to Norwegian salmon is low.

“Newspapers seldom write negatively about Scotland, or explain why they do not increase production. Nor is it mentioned that the price of Scottish salmon is high, it is Norway that is in focus. It probably goes with the fact that the Norwegian salmon industry is the largest player,” the researcher believes.

Scandalous documentary
For many French people, a TV documentary about Norwegian salmon from 2013 etched into memory. It was highly critical of the aquaculture industry. The industry was described as a secret and closed world, where no one knows what is going on. The papers followed up, and it produced several articles on toxic salmon this year.

  • Le Monde: “Pesticides, dioxins … Norwegian farms in the hot seat” (2013)
  • Le Monde: “Red alert on Norwegian salmon” (2013)
  • Le Figaro: “Not everything is good in salmon” (2014)

The following year coverage dropped, before the discussion almost stopped in 2015. Then the negative reviews come back in 2015 and 2016, with articles on toxins in organic salmon.

  • Le Figaro: “Organic Salmon More Toxic Than Non-Organic” (2016)
  • Femme actuelle: “Organic salmon more polluted than we think” (2016)

“My impression is that a large proportion of French people oppose gene modification, and are concerned that food should be clean. The articles reveal that they are afraid that Norwegian salmon is not a healthy product,” the researcher said.

Difference between media coverage in France and Norway
There is a big difference between the media coverage in France and Norway. In Norway, the environment is the most covered theme for industry (Olsen & Osmundsen, 2017), while in France, health is gets the most attention for industry. Health coverage of Norwegian salmon was particularly negative compared to Irish and Scottish salmon. Results also showed that when it comes to health, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are more represented than farmers in the debate.

“Despite the fact that Scottish and Norwegian salmon farming uses the same production method and is owned by the same multinational company (for example Mowi), Norwegian salmon gets more criticism from French media compared to their competitors. This can have negative effects on consumers’ perception of Norwegian salmon,” he added.

French less concerned about other aspects of the aquaculture industry and lice and escape problems are not mentioned as much as health. Furthmore What happens in Norwegian fjords and environmental impacts has little media coverage.