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Opinion – published in The Guardian, PEI August 2, 2017
by Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network

Company has started construction but doesn’t yet have federal approval to produce genetically modified salmon at Rollo Bay

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, PEI 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 PEI’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 PEI 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 PEI government.

AquaBounty has continually changed its plans. First, PEI 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.