An application by two environmental groups to the Federal Court of Canada to stop production of genetically-modified salmon on Prince Edward Island has failed.

'This should allay any remaining fears consumers may have about our fish.' - AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish

The Ecology Action Centre of Halifax and the Living Oceans Society in B.C. filed the appeal against AquaBounty and the federal ministers of health and environment.

The two environmental groups argued the ministers did not follow their own rules when they approved AquaBounty to manufacture salmon eggs at the company's P.E.I. facility in Bay Fortune, and export the eggs to be raised into fully-grown fish in Panama.

AquaBounty salmon grow at twice the rate of regular farmed Atlantic salmon, and were recently approved for sale as food in the U.S.

The groups alleged two things in particular.

  • That the Environment Minister failed to comply with the Environmental Protection Act with the publication of a notice of significant new activity in the Canada Gazette.
  • That both ministers failed to obtain and assess legally required information for a toxicity assessment.

The court dismissed both allegations.

"The Ministers' decisions were reasonable and made in the manner prescribed by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act," Justice Russel W. Zinn wrote in the decision.

'Expertise 'over and above' that of the Court'

The court ruled that while the groups' interpretations of the regulations were occasionally reasonable, they failed to show that the ministers' interpretations were unreasonable.

"The Ministers have adopted an interpretation of [the Canadian Environmental Protection Act] in light of their day-to-day experience administering the Act," Zinn wrote.

"They have expertise 'over and above' that of the Court. Their interpretation must not be unreasonable but, as long as that threshold is met, this Court should defer."

In a news release, AquaBounty said it was delighted but not surprised and that the decision would allow the company to move forward.

"This should allay any remaining fears consumers may have about our fish," said AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish.

"The ruling also affirms that Canada has one of the most stringent regulatory systems in the world."

Appeal being considered

The Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society say they're considering whether to appeal.

Both groups said while they were disappointed with the decision they were pleased with the court's interpretation of some of the rules, in particular, a statement regarding where AquaBounty can produce salmon eggs.

"I agree with the applicants that subsection 106(10) restricts AquaBounty to using [AquAdvantage Salmon] at its P.E.I. facility," Zinn wrote.

Mark Butler, policy director for the Ecology Action Centre, said he was cheered by that.

"That was important for us — of course what we were looking for was … a rejection of the government's approval," said Butler.

"But yeah we were greatly encouraged by his decision to restrict the approval."

Health Canada is still reviewing a submission from the company to sell the fish as food in Canada.