Canada urged to keep genetically modified animals out of the wild
Two transgenic salmon produced in Canada by the company AquaBounty.
A national biodiversity group says Canada must keep genetically modified animals out of the wild, after the federal government recently rejected several attempts to strengthen its existing laws.
No incidents related to this technology have been reported in Canada, but Nature Canada's senior advisor, Mark Butler, believes that wild animals must be prevented from ;being exposed to artificial cousins who could breed with them or compete with them for food.
It's time to act, he says.
< p class="e-p">The federal government is updating the Canadian Environmental Protection Act for the first time in 22 years. The law, commonly referred to as CEPA, governs the management of toxic chemicals and new genetically modified or modified organisms.
One bill is almost entirely focused on toxic chemicals. The Senate attempted to amend the bill to include mandatory public consultations on genetically modified organisms and to ensure that the risk to wild animals is considered in all situations.
The government withdrew nearly all of the Senate amendments in February.
This week, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, could decide whether or not to approve the use of genetically modified Drosophila.
The fruit fly-like EntoEngine, created by Edmonton Future Fields, was designed to be a natural bioreactor and grow cellular proteins that can be used to make vaccines , drugs or lab-grown meat products.
Nature Canada has asked the government to suspend this process – and all reviews like it – until the process consultation is improved.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault. (File photo)
Future Fields submitted its application in November. The public consultation lasted 30 days, ending on January 28, and included 17 submissions. A decision is due March 17, but Minister Guilbeault could delay it for up to four months.
Jalene Anderson-Baron, co-founder of Future Fields, said in a written statement in response to questions from The Canadian Press that the process balances the need to identify potential risks with the need to enable innovations.
“We believe that biotechnology has the potential to have immense benefits for people and the planet, and new innovations in synthetic biology will be a key tool in our fight against climate change.
— Jalene Anderson-Baron, Co-Founder of Future Fields
That said, we fully support the rigorous evaluation by Health Canada and Environment Canada to to keep Canadians and the environment safe, said Ms. Anderson-Baron.
For Mark Butler, the EntoEngine was based on two paragraphs of information that include a claim that the product poses no known risk to humans or animals, with no supporting scientific evidence.< /p>
It is up to the public to produce evidence that there is a risk, without having access to company data, within 30 days.< /p>
Consultation is also on a voluntary basis.
Imagine if there was a road or pipeline proposal and there were two paragraphs for an environmental assessment, and it's completely voluntary, and it's up to the proponent to decide, Mr. Butler said.
According to him, Brazil has already seen the risks posed by genetic modification. Last year, it became the first country to discover the breeding of genetically modified fish in the wild.
Canada has licensed 17 versions of GloFish through a relatively new voluntary public comment process.
It refers to the trademark GloFish, zebrafish with fluorescent jellyfish genes to make them glow in the dark. They were first thought to be sterile, until GloFish multiplied rapidly in streams in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, where they have no natural predators. /p>
Canada has licensed 17 versions of GloFish through a relatively new voluntary public consultation process.
The risk to Wildlife here is low, because the tropical nature of the fish doesn't match Canadian winters, but Butler believes the Brazil issue should be a wake-up call.
“Genetic engineering is a very complex subject. We are not trying to stop it. We are trying to get ahead of this technology and put regulations and protective measures in place to protect nature, which does not need a new risk or a new threat.
—Mark Butler, Nature Canada Senior Advisor
The voluntary review process used for the EntoEngine and GloFish began in 2018, a year after the House Environment Committee made 87 recommendations to update CEPA.
None of the recommendations dealing with genetic engineering were included in the government's proposed legislative update.
In a written statement, Mr. Guilbeault's office said it planned to address the concerns at a later date. He launched a new round of consultations on the issue in the fall, which will inform any future changes to the law.
NDP Critic environment, Laurel Collins, said it was really disappointing.
“We have very little confidence in the government's comments that we will be able to make a second round of amendments to CEPA, given that it has been 22 years since the last one”
— Laurel Collins, NDP Environment Critic
In her brief to the Senate in June, the Assembly of First Nations Nations (AFN) said the process for evaluating genetically modified animals has serious flaws.
The document points out that First Nations were not kept informed or invited to participate in the evaluation. The AFN said that when Canada approved genetically modified AquaAdvantage salmon in 2018, the decision was made based on narrow considerations without consultation with First Nations.
In December, the Atlantic Salmon Federation told the Environment Committee that the review process was neither accessible nor transparent.
Atlantic salmon could be threatened by the growing presence of transgenic salmon.
The consultation lasted 29 days and was launched with little notice. The federation said the decision did not take into account the risks to wild salmon if the modified salmon escaped or were accidentally released.
So far, the company has been diligent in containing the fish, but the federation has issued a warning: We are only one small mistake away from a potentially dire situation for wild Atlantic salmon.
This salmon will no longer be farmed in Canada. The company that runs it said last month it was changing production facilities in Prince Edward Island to produce non-genetically modified salmon eggs, which are more sought after.