Late last night, I finally arrived in Charlottetown, on Prince Edward Island, to kick off my genetically engineered salmon tour of Atlantic Canada. It was already dark when my plane landed so I couldn’t see just how beautiful the island is. Thankfully, though, I had a chance to take in the scenery today, as I drove with my fellow tourmates from Charlottetown a little more than an hour to Bay Fortune, where the AquaBounty facility is located. A few weeks ago, we requested a tour of the facility where the company plans to raise its genetically engineered salmon eggs, but our request was denied.
Even though we had hoped to get a look at the place where genetically engineered salmon may get its start, we didn’t let their refusal to give us a tour stop us from going to Bay Fortune on our own. We decided to hold a press conference outside the facility to bring attention to the fact that AquaBounty plans to turn this research center into a factory that will commercialize their genetically engineered salmon egg production for U.S. consumption.
Here’s a video from our press conference:
Most interesting to me was just how close the AquaBounty building is to Bay Fortune. We didn’t have a tape measure, but I’d guess the water was only about 120 feet from the boundary of the AquaBounty property. There were also a number of pipes going from their facility to the Bay, but the company doesn’t specify whether these pipes are meant to take water into the facility or to dump excess water back into the bay (or both). And even though AquaBounty insists that its genetically engineered salmon will be unable to breed with wild salmon because it will be unable to leave the facility, the close proximity to the bay, and thus to wild salmon populations, is very troubling. Especially with threats of global warming and rising water levels, it’s easily conceivable that genetically engineered salmon could escape the AquaBounty factory and mate with wild salmon, thus threatening the wild populations survival.
We also held our first public forum yesterday evening, where we answered questions and talked about a wide range of issues concerning genetically engineered foods to an audience of about 60 people. Lucy (from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network) discussed the history of genetically engineered crops and animals; I raised the environmental concerns of genetically engineered salmon, including escaped fish being introduced into the wild and endangering wild salmon populations; Jaydee (from the Center for Food Safety) delved into concerns about the food safety risks of these fish; and Leo (from the Council of Canadians) ended the panel with an explanation of the politics of biotechnology on Prince Edward Island and a call to action for Island residents to ask their government to fully assess the egg production facility.
The audience was lively, expressing concern while also pushing back on some of our points. I heard that some AquaBounty employees were at our meeting taking notes (Prince Edward Island is relatively small – word travels quickly, and everyone seems to know everyone), but they didn’t ask any questions or respond to any of our arguments.