Researcher Florent Govaerts has researched French newspapers over a ten-year period to examine what is being been written about Norwegian salmon. Most of the 134 articles were negative, which might have had a negative impact on its reputation.
France is one of Norway’s most important salmon markets, with annual exports of around 120,000 tonnes. However, Norwegian suppliers have lost market shares over the past five years, and fewer French consumers buy Norwegian salmon. Can a wavering reputation caused by negative articles in the French press be to blame? Scientist Florent Govaerts wanted to find out.
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 the newspapers have an influence on what people think, and so I wanted to take a look at how the attitudes of the French are influenced by what is being written about Norwegian salmon. That was my starting point as I sat down and started reading online newspapers,” says Florent Govaerts.
He examined mentions of Norwegian salmon in four of the main French newspapers; 40 articles from the non-partisan Le Monde, 43 from the conservative Le Figaro, 13 from left-wing Libération, and 38 articles from the financial newspaper Les Echos. The researcher has also looked at two popular women’s magazines that often write about health and nutrition: Femme Actuelle and Madame Le Figaro. Systematic categorization was used as a method for analysing the 134 articles. 63 of the articles had a negative attitude towards farmed salmon and the fish farming industry, while 53 articles were neutral and 18 were positive.
Economy as a primary focus
“Economy was the most covered theme regarding salmon aquaculture. The articles largely dealt with increased salmon prices and how it affected the French salmon smoking industry. Little was written about fresh salmon. Smoked salmon, on the other hand, is a symbol of French gastronomic culture. Smoking salmon is an old tradition, especially for Christmas. So when newspapers write about financial matters, the French salmon smoking industry is often portrayed as a being adversely affected by higher prices for raw materials,” explains Govaerts.
In his analysis of the French media, the researcher finds that the smoked salmon producers receive significantly greater media coverage than the rest of the industry in terms of economy. Smoked salmon producers are portrayed as being highly affected by the increase in share price. Limited trading margins with the fish farmers and grocery suppliers places French smoked salmon producers in a difficult position. The Norwegian aquaculture industry is criticized in the media because of high prices and low production levels. That said, the connection between these factors is not always described, such as why the Norwegian salmon supply is low.
“Newspapers seldom write negatively about Scotland, or explain why they do not increase their production. Nor is it mentioned that the price of Scottish salmon is high; it is Norway that is in focus. The researcher believes this has to do with the fact that the Norwegian salmon industry is the largest player”, says the researcher.
Documentary has a dramatic impact
To many French people, a television documentary from 2013 about Norwegian salmon has become etched into memory. The documentary was highly critical of the fish farming industry, which was described as a secretive and closed-off world where no-one knows what is going on. The newspapers picked up the lead, culminating in several articles about toxic salmon being published in the year the documentary was released.
Le Monde: “Pesticides, dioxins …Norwegian farms in the hot seat” (2013)
Le Monde: “Red alert for Norwegian salmon” (2013)
Le Figaro: “Not everything is good in salmon” (2014)
The following year number of articles on this topic dropped, with coverage being almost completely dried up by 2015. And then the negative reviews returned in 2015 and 2016, with articles about toxins in organic salmon.
Le Figaro: “Organic salmon is more toxic than non-organic salmon” (2016)
Femme actuelle: “Organic salmon is more polluted than we think” (2016)
“My impression is that a large proportion of French consumers oppose genetic modification, and are concerned that food should be clean. The articles reveal that they are afraid that Norwegian salmon is not a healthy product”, says the researcher.
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 second-most covered topic after the industry (Olsen & Osmundsen, 2017), while in France, health is the second-most covered topic after the industry. Health related 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 use the same production methods and are owned by the same multinational companies (such as Mowi), Norwegian salmon receives more criticism from French media compared to their competitors. This can have negative effects on consumers’ perception of Norwegian salmon.”
The French are less interested in other aspects of aquaculture industry. Problems surrounding salmon lice and farmed salmon escaping are not mentioned as often as health. What happens in Norwegian fjords, as well as environmental impacts gets little media coverage.