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Genetically modified salmon review ducks toxicity question

January 26, 2015

Fully one year after Living Oceans sued the Ministers of Health and Environment for approving the manufacture of the world’s first genetically modified (GM) food animal with no public debate whatsoever, the federal government has finally produced the risk assessment on which the November, 2013 decision was purportedly based.

The risk assessment, still marked “Draft – in Review”, appears to be a thorough review of a proposal by Aquabounty Canada to manufacture 100,000 GM salmon eggs per year in a facility in Prince Edward Island for export to a grow-out facility in Panama. One of the problems is that what the Ministers permitted is unlimited production at these as well as other, unnamed facilities that weren’t reviewed.

The two specific facilities covered in the risk assessment rely on mechanical and chemical barriers to prevent the release of GM tissues into the wild. It assumes that those barriers will be effective. What the risk assessment does make clear it that there is high risk to endangered native Atlantic salmon populations in P.E.I., should the GM fish ever escape. But they won’t, because mechanical systems never fail, people never forget to check them and regulators always inspect and follow up in a timely manner. This finding allowed the Ministers to dispense with an analysis of the central question for Living Oceans: are these manufactured fish “toxic or capable of becoming toxic” in the environment, as those terms are used in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act?

The risk assessment has only now been made public, but it has been so heavily redacted that we don’t know if the reviewer made appropriate judgments based on the material presented by Aquabounty, or if Aquabounty delivered accurate descriptions of the GM fish and facilities to the government for review.

Our lawsuit will explore whether the government was within its rights to use this risk assessment to permit unlimited production at unspecified locations, without ever having answered the toxicity question.

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