AQUABOUNTY EXPANSION

Construction at GM salmon facility in Rollo Bay proceeding as planned

The summer of 2017 was a hot one in PEI, not only weather-wise but also opinion-wise, when it came to the provincial government’s approval for AquaBounty Technologies’ expansion of their Rollo Bay facility. The company’s plan is to commercially grow salmon from genetically modified eggs to market size. The approval granted on June 19, 2017 led to wide media coverage that seems to have slowed down after the summer months. Salty reached out to both AquaBounty Canada Inc. as well as to several activist groups in order to inquire about the current status of the expansion project and the opposing movement.

Dave Conley, director, corporate communications of AquaBounty Technologies Inc. informed Salty that the renovations to the existing hatchery facility (formerly known as Snow Island’s Atlantic Sea Smolt Ltd. Facility) have been completed. Construction to build broodstock and production facilities are underway with an expected completion date in the fall of this year.

When asked about the public concern with regards to the company’s expansion in PEI, Conley responded, “Our plans to commercialize the production and sale of our AquAdvantage salmon took all the concerns expressed to date into consideration. Escapes and water usage were the primary concerns. Regarding escape risks, the RAS [Recirculating Aquaculture System] facilities we are using have multiple and redundant barriers to prevent escapes of all life stages, from eggs to adult fish. The water usage in all three facilities combined will be less than in the original smolt production facility because the new RAS design recycles more than 99% of the water we use.”

Karen G. Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society, a BC-based activist group opposing AquaBounty’s expansion acknowledges that “the primary concern is for the marine environment”. Next to escape, any potential fertility of the GM salmon is top-of-mind to protect wild salmon populations. Farmed salmon is typically considered to be infertile (through various procedures done to the fish and its eggs), but concerns still arise about the potential fertility of new GM salmon that is being produced. Human health risks when consuming the GM salmon is another key factor for consideration, according to Wristen. She suggests that higher hormone levels compared to conventionally farmed fish poses an increased cancer risk to consumers, or that GM salmon can initiate allergic reactions. However, Health Canada’s approval process in 2016 for the AquAdvantage salmon determined that these risk factors were “negligible”. Living Ocean Society’s mandate in this matter is that “consumers should really have a choice”.

This is also what local activist Sharon Labchuck from Earth Action PEI fights for—appropriate labelling of any GM product. She states that “AquaBounty fish was secretly sold into the Canadian market”. The company had announced in their quarterly report released in August 2017 that about 5 tons of their GM salmon was sold into the Canadian marketplace. Canada‘s current labelling requirements for GM food are voluntary, and the decision to label a food as GM is left up to the company producing the food.

Labchuk also expressed that international media coverage about the planned GM fish production “doesn’t do us any favour. …the government is trying to create PEI, the Food Island.” She adds, “People want food ecologically produced that doesn’t destroy the environment.”

“PEI was chosen years ago, in the mid-1990s, because of its history of disease-free freshwater salmonid egg production,” Conley said. “We are a proud member of the PEI community and are committed to contributing to a bright future for the province.”

AquaBounty’s position and that of its opponents couldn’t be further apart. Data published by the company gathered throughout the decades-long FDA (USA) approval process didn’t indicate any risk factors from consumption, and one of the advantages of AquAdvantage salmon has been outlined by the company as being climate-smart aquaculture, which is sustainable and innovative. Activists point to these studies as flawed and suggest that the FDA process was not as thorough as it should have been.

Living Ocean Society and Earth Action PEI also struggle with the approval process for the PEI facility expansion. “The risk assessment was done on other facilities and not adequate [for the PEI location],” Wristen says.

Innovation, threat, or both, in the end the final say will lie with the federal government. In July of last year, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna indicated that “should Aquabounty wish to manufacture or grow out the AquAdvantage salmon at this site, a new notification will be required pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.” So while renovation and construction of the expanded facility have an end in sight, an actual production start date is still up in the air.

About Jessica Fritz

Jessica is "from away" in the truest sense of its meaning: her roots are in Germany. She immigrated to Toronto, Canada in 2010 and moved to PEI two summers ago. As a passionate home cook Jessica likes to explore different types of cuisines including her native one. "Thinking globally, buying locally" is her foodie mantra, and being able to grow veggies in her own backyard was one of the big drivers for her move to PEI.
Putting words on paper has always been a way to express herself. Hence, writing for Salty combines her love for food and the written word while at the same time discovering PEI's thriving culinary landscape.
And recently, Jessica and her husband launched their own food business: Maritime Marzipan offers hand-made traditional European almond treats inspired by Island living. She is blogging about her adventure here on saltyisland.com or you can find them at maritimemarzipan.com.

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