Failure to notify public during consideration of application to grow genetically-modified salmon eggs violates Canadian Environmental Protection Act, groups say
OTTAWA — Environmental groups are in court today to challenge the federal government’s approval of an application to manufacture genetically-modified salmon eggs in P.E.I. The eggs would then be shipped to Panama for grow out before being sold as food in North America.
Ecojustice lawyers, on behalf of Living Oceans Society and the Ecology Action Centre, will argue that the federal government acted unlawfully when it approved AquaBounty Canada Inc.’s application to manufacture genetically-modified salmon without adequate public notice and without adequate assessment for its other uses. The groups seek a court order overturning the approval.
“Canadians expect government decision-making to be open and transparent, especially when it comes to something as significant as manufacturing genetically-modified salmon that may pose serious risks to wild Atlantic salmon stocks,” said Kaitlyn Mitchell, Ecojustice lawyer. “This decision should have never been shielded from public view, and the federal government’s actions leave our clients no choice but to bring this matter before the courts.”
Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), before a new genetically-modified organism can be manufactured in Canada, the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health must collect and assess all required information in order to determine whether the organism is toxic or capable of becoming toxic to human health or biodiversity. If the government decides to waive an information requirement — here, the requirement for test data regarding invasiveness and toxicity — it must provide public notice. No such public notice was provided until months after the legal challenge was launched.
“Approval of the world’s first genetically-modified food animal essentially happened behind closed doors, with zero public input,” said Mark Butler, policy director at Ecology Action Centre. “Not only was the public left out of the loop, there has been no consideration of whether these genetically-modified salmon could become invasive in the event of an escape.”
“We are asking the court to overturn this approval and uphold the public’s right to know, ensuring that it is included in future assessments about genetically-modified food production,” said Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society. “By the government’s own admission, the environmental risks posed by this organism are high. Wild salmon stocks are of vital importance to our country and our economy, and risks to wild Atlantic salmon should only be taken in a precautionary and fully informed manner.”