Biotechnology company AquaBounty Canada Inc. creates its “AquAdvantage” salmon by taking genetic material from Chinook salmon and the eel-like ocean pout and inserting it into Atlantic salmon eggs. According to AquaBounty, the genetically modified salmon grows to market size faster than conventional salmon. Ecojustice lawyers represented Living Oceans Society and the Ecology Action Centre in a lawsuit challenging the Federal Government’s decision to approve Aquabounty’s application to grow the genetically modified salmon eggs in P.E.I. and then transport them to Panama, where they will grow to full size.
The Federal Court ruled to uphold the federal government’s approval of AquaBounty’s application in late 2015. Our clients appealed the decision.
In October 2016, the Federal Court of Appeal decided to uphold approval.
Atlantic salmon populations around the world, including many populations in Canada, are endangered. Our clients assert that the effects of an escape of GM fish into the wild, including potential interbreeding with wild salmon, could be irreversible. We are arguing that because the toxicity assessment on which the Federal Ministers of the Environment and Health based their decision did not assess whether genetically modified salmon could become invasive in the event of an escape, and thus did not accord with the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the decision was unlawful.
Why did Ecojustice get involved?
We believe that chemicals and products of biotechnology should be regulated in accordance with the precautionary principle, which states that when making decisions where environmental consequences are not fully understood, governments must err on the side of caution. We are also involved in this case because we are committed to improving transparency in government decision-making and this case highlights the lack of information provided to the public about decisions related to biotechnology.
What would a win mean?
Our clients are asking the court to find that the toxicity assessment of Aquabounty’s proposal was incomplete and unlawful. If they are successful, the government would be required to conduct a more thorough and appropriate assessment before deciding whether or not to approve the manufacture of these genetically modified organisms. It would also raise the bar for government assessments in future cases involving products of biotechnology.