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Stopping genetically-modified salmon in court

Eyed salmon eggs. Photo: AquaBounty

Living Oceans is taking part in a legal challenge against the Government of Canada to block the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) salmon. With no public debate the government has approved the manufacture in P.E.I. and export of AquaBounty’s GM salmon eggs to Panama where they will be grown into fish destined for sale in the U.S. market. The U.S. is expected to approve the fish for human consumption very shortly, making this the first GM food animal in the world.

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Ecojustice lawyers are representing us in court challenging the decisions of the Health and the Environment Ministers, arguing that the approval is unlawful because it failed to assess whether GM salmon could become invasive, potentially putting wild salmon and entire ecosystems at risk (DFO risk assessment summary). Ecojustice provides lawyers’ services without charge but court costs, expert fees and other out-of-pocket expenses will have to be paid.

This case came up quite suddenly—neither the government nor AquaBounty would even admit that they were reviewing GM salmon for manufacture and export. When we found the notice in the Canada Gazette indicating that they had given the green light there were only 30 days to seek a legal opinion and get into court. With no time to write funding applications, we had to act fast. We did so knowing that you've been generous with us in the past when urgent action was needed and in the fervent hope that you'll support us again as we fight to protect wild salmon.

Living Oceans is a non-profit society, but not a registered charity. A donation made directly to us supports the full range of ocean advocacy work that we do, but we cannot issue a tax receipt for it.

We want to stop the production of GM salmon because of the risk they pose to wild salmon populations which are already under pressure worldwide. Farmed fish escapes from open net-pens and hatcheries is a serious, ongoing problem that threatens wild fish. Government reviews have indicated that GM salmon may be able to survive and breed in the wild. We already know that both feral juvenile Atlantic salmon as well as mature escaped non-GM farmed Atlantic salmon have been found in B.C. streams.

Although the current approval only permits grow-out of the GM fish in land-based facilities, as production expands, there may be pressure to permit grow-out in ocean-based fish farms across the world. AquaBounty initially plans to send the eggs from PEI to Panama for grow-out and processing, however, the company has already said that they want to raise the fish in the U.S. and other countries including Chile in the future.

We want a court to decide if the federal government violated its own law by permitting the manufacture of genetically modified salmon in Canada. The entire process for assessing AquAdvantage salmon has been shrouded in secrecy.

Will you please help us shed light on the federal government's decision to allow the commercial production of GM salmon?

Our partners

EcojusticeEcology Action Center

Update

Judge's ruling provides partial clarity to genetically-modified salmon regulation in Canada

OTTAWA – Environmental groups are disappointed in a Federal Court ruling that upholds the federal government's approval of an application to manufacture genetically-modified salmon eggs in P.E.I.

The ruling, posted Dec. 23, came in response to a legal challenge brought by Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society. The groups, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, argued that the federal government's approval was granted without adequate public notice, and purported to allow the organisms to be used and grown-out at other, un-assessed, locations throughout the country.

Although the groups are disappointed with the decision, they are happy that the ruling will restrict AquaBounty’s manufacture of genetically-modified salmon eggs to its P.E.I. facility, and does not grant the company approval to manufacture at other unassessed facilities across the Canada – one of the groups’ initial concerns when bringing this case forward. However they remain concerned about the implications of the decision, and the lack of clarity regarding the ways in which the organism can and cannot be used across the country.

While Justice Russel W. Zinn's ruling did uphold the government's approval, his judgement also confirmed that the government cannot continue its previous practice of waiting years to publish notice when it waives information requirements because it frustrates the goal of transparency – the government did not post public notice of its waiver of information requirements for genetically-modified salmon eggs until months after this case was launched. In the future the groups want to ensure that concerned citizens do not need to bring a legal claim in order to ensure the government posts waivers in a reasonable time.

Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society are currently reviewing the decision to determine if further action will be taken.

For more information, please contact:

Scott McAnsh, lawyer | Ecojustice 613-562-5800 ext. 3378
Mark Butler, policy director | Ecology Action Centre 902-266-5401 / 902-429-5287
Karen Wristen, executive director | Living Oceans Society 604-788-5634

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