A new fo­cus on birth­place

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

There are le­git­i­mate con­cerns over the ap­proval to raise ge­net­i­cally-mod­i­fied (GM) salmon – from egg to din­ner plate - at the AquaBounty Canada Inc. fa­cil­ity in Rollo Bay. For starters, the prov­ince cer­tainly didn’t make any ef­fort to seek pub­lic in­put into a re­view for an Amended En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact State­ment.

There is a strong case that AquaBounty’s plan isn’t an amend­ment at all, but an en­tirely new pro­posal. It has changed so sig­nif­i­cantly that a new and com­plete en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment should have been car­ried out.

The out­come might not be dif­fer­ent but at least it would give con­cerned res­i­dents and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists an op­por­tu­nity to present con­cerns and ar­gu­ments. And then, who knows?

And, if AquaBounty needed an amended en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment be­fore it could pro­ceed, shouldn’t the bur­den fall on the com­pany to pay in­stead of P.E.I. tax­pay­ers? The $14,000 at stake might not seem like a lot, but it’s the prin­ci­ple. AquaBounty is con­trolled by peo­ple with vast re­sources. Does it re­ally need reg­u­lar grants and loans from both lev­els of gov­ern­ment to con­tinue its op­er­a­tions in East­ern P.E.I.?

Green Party Leader Peter Be­van-Baker, a long time critic of the AquaBounty plant, sug­gested that “reg­u­la­tory ac­ro­bat­ics” were used to pull off sup­port for the amended pro­posal. He might be right.

The orig­i­nal ap­proval was for AquaBounty to pro­duce GM salmon eggs here and then ship them to Panama where they would grow to full size. The new pro­posal is to han­dle the salmon en­tirely at Rollo Bay. The com­pany also gets the OK to ex­pand its cur­rent fa­cil­ity by build­ing two 40,000-square foot struc­tures where the com­pany will rear AquaAd­van­tage salmon.

That ac­tu­ally makes more eco­nomic sense and it was hard to un­der­stand why Panama was even in­volved in the first place. Ex­cept, per­haps, that it eased ini­tial con­cerns about wa­ter use and en­vi­ron­men­tal dan­gers. Now, those con­cerns have in­creased while pub­lic scru­tiny has de­creased.

The rush for ap­proval comes just be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of a new Wa­ter Act. It means that ex­ist­ing deep-wa­ter wells will be grand­fa­thered in. New con­cerns about wa­ter ta­bles, plant waste runoff, ma­rine con­tam­i­na­tion and salmon es­cap­ing the fa­cil­ity have es­caped an­swers.

We are as­sured the fish are ster­ile – that even if some es­cape through the most im­prob­a­ble meth­ods, they can­not breed or re­pro­duce. The 100 per cent guar­an­tee ap­pears to have de­creased to 95 per cent. Who knows what might hap­pen in na­ture?

The prov­ince wants the jobs, the eco­nomic spinoffs and the re­search that may thrust P.E.I. into the front­line of GM tech­nol­ogy. Those rea­sons hold sway to­day. So it’s a for­lorn hope for en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists to think the prov­ince could still take steps to stop pro­duc­tion.

P.E.I.’s rep­u­ta­tion as a healthy food pro­ducer and ex­porter could be threat­ened by the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing GM salmon. Some re­tail­ers have al­ready re­fused to stock the salmon on their shelves.

As Mr. Be­van-Baker has stated, the GM fa­cil­i­ties on P.E.I. make us not just the birth­place of Canada, but also the world’s birth­place of GM an­i­mals.

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