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Organic salmon farming: risk perceptions, decision heuristics, and the absence of environmental accounting

Georgakopoulos, Georgios and Thomson, Ian (2005) Organic salmon farming: risk perceptions, decision heuristics, and the absence of environmental accounting. Accounting Forum, 29 (1). pp. 49-75. ISSN 0155-9982

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Abstract

This paper reports on interviews with salmon farmers exploring their decision as to whether to adopt organic production methods. Organic salmon farming has the potential to considerably reduce the social, environmental and economic risks associated with salmon farming. Salmon farming is an industry subjected to intense scrutiny and is highly controversial. The combination of these two factors was expected to reveal the use of environmental accounting in evaluating this potentially difficult, expensive strategic decision, responding to the barrage of public criticism, driven by changing environmental regulations and a potential value shift by key actors. However, interviews revealed that going organic was regarded as a normal agricultural decision, largely based on price forecasts. The shift to organic was relatively easy, unproblematic and not too expensive. The environmental pressure groups campaigns had very little impact on this decision and it was not subjected to systematic accounting evaluation. The interviews described a sector exhibiting many of the characteristics of Beck's Risk Society thesis (1992, 1995, 1996). Decision makers' risk perception is identified as important for considering what factors are thought to be legitimate/illegitimate and powerful/weak in the decision making process. Unless risks are considered 'real' by the decision makers then the associated costs/benefits of doing or not doing something are not going to figure in the decision heuristics, regardless of the nature of their calculation. Environmental accounting could play a part, not necessarily at the individual farm level, but as part of a reflexive process in reconstructing the underlying knowledge of the social, environmental and economic risks of salmon farming as a whole.