Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on January 20, 2014 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Did the federal government break the law with genetically modified salmon approval?

Ecojustice lawyer Kaitlyn MitchellKaitlyn MitchellEcojustice Alumni

Ecojustice lawyers have filed a lawsuit, on behalf of Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society, against the federal government for permitting the manufacture of genetically modified salmon in Canada.

This would be the world’s first genetically modified food animal to go into production and we believe it’s important that the government’s assessment of this organism be done in a comprehensive and transparent manner.

Ultimately, this is about the integrity of our natural ecosystems, which are at risk of contamination by a foreign species designed in human laboratories.

What’s AquAdvantage salmon?
At issue in this case is a genetically modified fish known as AquAdvantage salmon. According to manufacturer AquaBounty Canada Inc., these fish have been genetically modified such that they grow to market size in half the time of conventional farmed or wild salmon.

AquaBounty plans to produce the genetically modified salmon eggs in P.E.I. and then transport them to Panama, where they will grow to full size. However, the approval would also allow the manufacture and grow out of the genetically modified salmon elsewhere in Canada under certain conditions.

The government’s assessment of these genetically modified salmon has been done behind closed doors. The public was notified only after the assessment was complete and was given no opportunity to provide input into the process. Even now, Canadians still do not have access to the full review.

Our access to information requests have been substantially denied.

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act
Before a new genetically modified organism can be manufactured in Canada, the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health must assess information set out in law — under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 — in order to determine whether the organism is toxic or capable of becoming toxic.

Part of the information the ministers are legally required to review is test data pertaining to an organism’s invasiveness. If the government grants a waiver of an information requirement, the public must be notified. Our research indicates that no notification of such a waiver has been published. However, the only publicly available assessment of AquAdvantage salmon in Canada, a summary document prepared by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, suggests that no test data on the potential invasiveness of this genetically modified organism was provided or assessed.

What’s at stake?
Our clients believe the government violated its own laws by failing to consider information regarding invasiveness of the genetically modified salmon, thereby putting wild salmon and the environment on which they depend at risk.

Canadians expect their government to implement, not ignore, the laws that protect our ecosystems from harm. Because the government did not assess whether genetically modified salmon could become invasive, and potentially harm ecosystems and species such as wild salmon, our clients are asking the court to set aside the government’s assessment and require the ministers to comply with the law before permitting the manufacture of these genetically modified organisms.

With iconic species such as wild salmon at stake, it is vital that decision-making be in accordance with the law, based on the best scientific knowledge available, and subject to public debate.

Ecojustice is proud to offer free legal and scientific expertise to Canadians committed to protecting the health of our environment.

Because we believe the law is the most powerful way of protecting the future of our planet.

Like you, Canadians expect their government to implement, not ignore, the laws that protect our ecosystems from harm.

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