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EDITORIAL: A new focus on birthplace

Province didn’t make any effort to seek public input into a review for an Amended Environmental Impact Statement.  

Published on July 15, 2017

A GM SALMON DWARFS ITS NATURAL COUNTERPART

©FILE PHOTO

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.