Genetically modified salmon court case prompts federal government to publish vague notice of waiver for toxicity information
The Ecology Action Centre (EAC) and Living Oceans Society (LOS) spoke out today against the cloud of secrecy obscuring federal government approvals of genetically modified (GM) organisms in Canada – including what may be the world’s first GM food animal to hit supermarket shelves: AquAdvantage™ salmon.
In December of 2013, EAC and LOS brought a legal action against the Ministers of Environment Canada and Health Canada, as well as AquaBounty Canada Inc., asking the Federal Court to decide if the Canadian government violated its own law when it permitted the manufacture of genetically modified salmon to proceed.
Since EAC and LOS filed suit, on February 8, 2014 Environment Canada published an after-the-fact notice of a government information waiver granted to U.S. parent company AquaBounty Technologies Inc. Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Minister of Environment has the power to exempt applicants from providing all the information the law normally requires.
The Canada Gazette notice, however, only says what information requirement the Minister of Environment waived: “Data from a test conducted to determine its pathogenicity, toxicity or invasiveness.” It does not indicate to what organism the waiver relates, or the specific legal basis for granting it.
Environment Canada continues to refuse to provide a copy of the full waiver or reasons for the decision – although the government’s lawyer recently confirmed that the waiver notice does relate to AquAdvantage™ salmon.
“We can’t challenge the issuance of this waiver, because we don’t know the basis for the government’s decision. Environment Canada has found a perfect Catch-22,” said a clearly frustrated Joanne Cook, Marine Toxics Co-ordinator at EAC and a passionate advocate for wild Atlantic salmon.
On March 10, 2014 the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network disclosed that an investment filing at the London Stock Exchange confirmed that AquaBounty is now also seeking approval for human consumption of its GM salmon here in Canada. In contrast, Health Canada has consistently refused to confirm or deny that AquaBounty had made any application for approval to sell the genetically modified fish in Canada.
“Every aspect of the assessment of this GM salmon has been shrouded in government secrecy,” said Karen Wristen, the executive director of LOS. “We’re going to continue to fight this case, and to challenge Canada’s lack of transparency and denial of public scrutiny.” After being denied information from the government’s lawyer, LOS filed requests through the Access to Information Act. Wristen also noted that “EAC and LOS are crowdfunding part of the legal costs through Indiegogo - to give everyone who’s concerned about the manufacture of GM salmon and the lack of procedural transparency the chance to contribute.”