Caught in tan­gled net

Com­pany starts con­struc­tion with­out fed­eral ap­proval to pro­duce GM salmon at Rollo Bay

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY LUCY SHARRATT

The ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) fish com­pany AquaBounty ap­pears to have hit a ma­jor snag of its own mak­ing. It started con­struc­tion of the world’s first GM fish factory at Rollo Bay but it doesn’t ac­tu­ally have per­mis­sion to grow the GM fish there.

The com­pany took a $14,000 pro­vin­cial grant to pro­pose con­struc­tion, and drew P.E.I.’s En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter into a global con­tro­versy over the world’s first GM food an­i­mal all with­out a green light from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

AquaBounty has ap­proval to grow GM At­lantic salmon at Bay For­tune, not Rollo Bay. This dis­tinc­tion was clar­i­fied by the Fed­eral Court and is now con­firmed by Canada’s Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change in re­sponse to let­ters from a coali­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal groups. The lo­ca­tion of the fa­cil­ity is highly rel­e­vant to the ques­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal risk.

It was the com­pany’s own re­quest to avoid pro­vid­ing sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion on GM salmon tox­i­c­ity and in­va­sive­ness that re­stricted the fed­eral ap­proval to Bay For­tune. In 2013, when the Min­is­ter granted AquaBounty a “waiver of in­for­ma­tion re­quire­ments” to skip over this data, the waiver ap­plied to the Bay For­tune fa­cil­ity alone. At that time, the com­pany’s pro­posal was to pro­duce GM salmon eggs, not fish.

Last year, AquaBounty as­sured the prov­ince, “The pro­posed fa­cil­ity at Rollo Bay West will have no GMO salmon“but this June it got per­mis­sion from P.E.I. to build a fa­cil­ity to pro­duce 250 met­ric tonnes of GM salmon each year. Now, we get con­fir­ma­tion that it doesn’t in fact have fed­eral ap­proval to use or man­u­fac­ture GM fish at this fa­cil­ity. This may have come as a sur­prise to the P.E.I. gov­ern­ment.

AquaBounty has con­tin­u­ally changed its plans. First, P.E.I. was go­ing to sup­ply GM salmon eggs for grow-out in Panama. Then, Rollo Bay was go­ing to be the world’s first GM fish factory. Now, AquaBounty has started con­struc­tion at Rollo Bay, with­out know­ing if GM salmon can be grown there.

The irony is that AquaBounty’s suc­cess in, so far, avoid­ing a full sci­en­tific risk as­sess­ment has led to this sit­u­a­tion. For Rollo Bay, the com­pany needs to sub­mit a new no­ti­fi­ca­tion to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. It is our hope that we will now see a full sci­en­tific as­sess­ment of the en­vi­ron­men­tal risks of GM salmon pro­duc­tion in Canada.

Lucy Sharratt is co-or­di­na­tor, Cana­dian Biotech­nol­ogy Ac­tion Net­work. www.cban.ca/fish.

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