‘Reg­u­la­tory ac­ro­bat­ics’

Green Leader Peter Be­van-Baker lends his voice to those con­cerned about ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied salmon fa­cil­ity

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERESA WRIGHT

“The fact that govern­ment is will­ing to give so much tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars to some­thing which, and I think I speak for all Is­lan­ders when I say, I have in­stinc­tive con­cerns about, is trou­bling.” Peter Be­van-Baker

The leader of the P.E.I. Green party says he is con­cerned about the “reg­u­la­tory ac­ro­bat­ics” that has led to the ap­proval of a con­tro­ver­sial fa­cil­ity that plans to grow ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied salmon in Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

Last month, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment ap­proved an ap­pli­ca­tion by AquaBounty Canada Inc. to ex­pand its cur­rent fa­cil­ity in Rollo Bay by build­ing two 40,000-square foot struc­tures where the com­pany will rear AquaAd­van­tage salmon, a ster­ile ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied salmon, from eyed egg to mar­ket size.

Many were sur­prised by the ap­pli­ca­tion, as the com­pany orig­i­nally said its plans would only in­volve pro­duc­ing the salmon eggs in P.E.I. and then ship­ping them to Panama to grow to full size. They were to be pro­cessed into fil­lets in Panama and then sent back to Canada for sale.

Green Leader Peter Be­vanBaker says the fact this change in plans did not re­quire a whole new en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment is a case of “reg­u­la­tory ac­ro­bat­ics.”

“There’s lots of lev­els in which this is prob­lem­atic for me, but I think first and fore­most it’s the reg­u­la­tory dance that’s be­ing played here. It just doesn’t sit well with me and, in­stinc­tively, I don’t feel good about that,” he said.

Be­van-Baker says he is also con­cerned about the amount of tax­payer money that has been handed to the com­pany.

The prov­ince re­cently pro­vided AquaBounty with a $14,000 grant for its grow-out fa­cil­ity. A spokesman for the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment depart­ment said the money was to as­sist the com­pany with the re­quire­ments of its en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment.

“It is not un­com­mon for IPEI (In­no­va­tion P.E.I.) to pro­vide grant as­sis­tance to com­pa­nies work­ing their way through ex­pan­sion projects of this na­ture,” the spokesman wrote in an email to The Guardian.

Since 2002, the prov­ince has pro­vided $818,000 in non-re­payable sup­port to AquaBounty, in­clud­ing grants and labour in­cen­tives.

In July 2016, Is­land In­vest­ment De­vel­op­ment Inc. (IIDI) also ap­proved a pro­vin­cial loan to the com­pany of $717,000.

AquaBounty has also re­ceived money from the fed­eral govern­ment. In 2010, the At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency (ACOA) pro­vided AquaBounty Canada Inc. and Aqua Bounty Tech­nolo­gies Inc. with a con­di­tion­ally re­payable con­tri­bu­tion of $2.87 mil­lion. ACOA also gave the com­pany an un­con­di­tion­ally re­payable con­tri­bu­tion of $337,000 in April 2016 to de­velop its hatch­ery.

Be­van-Baker says he be­lieves the com­pany is large enough to fund its own op­er­a­tions.

“The fact that govern­ment is will­ing to give so much tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars to some­thing which, and I think I speak for all Is­lan­ders when I say, I have in­stinc­tive con­cerns about, is trou­bling.

“The money be­hind this or­ga­ni­za­tion is con­sid­er­able. And it’s my per­sonal opin­ion that they should be able to fund all R&D (re­search and de­vel­op­ment) and all ap­pli­ca­tions for what­ever reg­u­la­tory hoops that they have to jump through with­out any pub­lic funds be­ing put in there.”

He says he has heard from a num­ber of nearby res­i­dents who have con­cerns about the fa­cil­ity, no­tably about the pre­ex­ist­ing deep-wa­ter wells the com­pany ac­quired when it pur­chased the prop­erty in Rollo Bay.

“I think it’s prob­lem­atic that we’re ac­tu­ally in the process of writ­ing the first Wa­ter Act for our prov­ince and some­thing as im­por­tant as this went through. I don’t think that was the right thing to do.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy groups from across Canada were in P.E.I. last week and called on Fed­eral En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna to halt the de­vel­op­ment of the AquaBounty fa­cil­ity un­til more study and con­sul­ta­tion has been held on the en­vi­ron­men­tal and eth­i­cal con­cerns in­volved in grow­ing ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied an­i­mals.

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