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GM Salmon Production Expands in PEI

July 19, 2017
Karen at meeting in PEI

Living Oceans teamed up with local PEI activists Sharon Labchuk (left), Mary Boyd and Leo Broderick (not pictured) as well as Ecology Action Centre’s Mark Butler (centre) to protest a decision by the PEI government to approve the first ever facility for the grow-out of genetically modified salmon for the marketplace. Living Oceans’ Karen Wristen was in PEI to deliver a presentation at a meeting of the Commission on Environmental Co-operation, set up under the environmental side agreement to NAFTA.

The PEI facility in Rollo Bay was recently purchased by Aquabounty, a manufacturer of genetically modified salmon eggs. Living Oceans and Ecology Action Centre had previously challenged federal approval of the manufacturing facility at Saris, on the grounds that the federal government has not undertaken appropriate analysis of the risk to endangered wild Atlantic salmon posed by this genetically modified fish. Aquabounty’s GM salmon is manufactured from Atlantic salmon broodstock and is reputed to grow at twice the rate of natural salmon, raising concerns about interbreeding and competition for food and habitat, should the fish escape.

The courts found the government was acting within its authority under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act when it approved the egg manufacturing facility. However, the risk assessment that was performed in support of that decision was not broad enough to encompass the risk posed by growing fish to market size in a PEI facility. The company’s original plan was to ship the eggs to Panama for grow-out and market the resulting product in Canada and the US.

All of the groups present at the media conference called on the federal government to step in and do an appropriate risk assessment. The PEI groups also expressed concerns for the local watershed, noting that the company’s original (and fallback) operating plan requires the extraction of an amount of water roughly equivalent to half of the City of Charlottetown’s consumption. The City is reliant on groundwater sources for its drinking water supply, as is most of the Island, and new water regulations are currently in development.

The issues surrounding the development of genetically modified food animals are, on the whole, poorly dealt with under current government regulation and policy. The secrecy surrounding government approval processes and risk assessments is particularly offensive to democratic values. We were accordingly very pleased to see a report tabled by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in June, recommending a number of changes to the Act including much greater transparency and accountability.