Positively Negative - How the CFIA Failed to Defuse ISA in BC
In a desperate attempt to defuse the Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) crisis, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) yesterday failed to turn positive tests into negative ones.
At a news teleconference hosted by the Three Wise Monkeys of the CFIA, Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) and The Province the mantra adopted was 'see no evidence of ISA, hear no evidence of ISA, speak no evidence of ISA.'
Writing in his blog - "Salmongate" - yesterday Ivan Doumenc commented:
"Today, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) gave a surreal press conference to announce to the world that the Infectious Salmon Anemia virus outbreak was not happening in British Columbia. The CFIA was assisted in this dangerous enterprise by the usual suspects, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Province of British Columbia. Dr. Con Kiley, Director of National Aquatic Animal Health at the CFIA, announced that his agency had tested the 48 samples used in previous tests and that all of them were negative for ISA."
Yet, the CFIA's confidence in negative results ignores multiple positive tests reported by the World Organization for Animal Health's (OIE) Reference Laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College in the University of Prince Edward Island and the University of Bergen in Norway. In fact, the positive tests included two positives for the European genotype of ISA in sockeye salmon reported by Dr. Fred Kibenge's OIE Reference Laboratory to the CFIA on 15th October (read the report online here):
The presence of ISA in sockeye salmon was corroborated by Professor Are Nylund of the University of Bergen in a report dated 2nd November.
Read the Norwegian report confirming ISA in sockeye online here
In addition, another report from the OIE Reference Laboratory made available on 2nd November reported the European genotype of ISA in coho as well as ISA in chum and chinook:
Read the official report on ISA in Chinook, Chum and Coho from the OIE Reference Laboratory online here
In the super-charged world of salmon farming and food security, the CFIA is fully aware that a positive test for ISA would open the floodgates to lawsuits and close the border to imports of Atlantic salmon eggs and exports of B.C. farmed salmon. Internal CFIA documents published by Fishyleaks reveal that the second positive case of ISA (ISAV #2) prompted an internal CFIA investigation.
The CFIA were swift to contact their trade partners in China, Japan, the European Union and the United States and draft “media lines” and “communication products” yet patently failed to notify First Nations, fishermen or the general public (see 'Internal' documents from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency enclosed below - note the pages overlap and more online via Fishyleaks):
So sensitive is the situation politically in Canada that the Cohen Commission wrote last night demanding that the documents posted above - and available online via Fishyleaks - be removed from this web-site (read their letter online here).
Last week, the Cohen Commission announced that a two-day hearing on ISA would be convened in mid-December. Lawyers for the Canadian Government and the BC Salmon Farmers Association argued against the public release of ISA information. The Canadian Press reported (4th November):
"Lawyer Greg McDade, who represents the Aquaculture Coalition, argued it is appropriate for groups concerned about salmon farming to mention ISA in their final submissions. McDade said he felt there was nothing unreasonable in mentioning ISA, particularly since the commission's own lawyer referred to it in a news release in announcing the new hearings next month. "This (motion) is nothing more than a blatant attempt by Canada to yet again suppress evidence that's absolutely critical," McDade said."
In a ruling on Monday (7th November), Justice Cohen ruled against the Canadian Government and allowed the information on ISA to be referred to publicly (ruling not online yet - but available soon via here).
During the news teleconference yesterday (8th November), Dr. Cornelius Kiley from the CFIA and Peter Wright from DFO denied that ISA was present in B.C. The Seattle Times reported last night:
"There's no evidence that (the virus) occurs in fish off the waters of British Columbia," Dr. Cornelius Kiley, a veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said during a news conference Tuesday. He added: "It is not known to occur at this moment of time in the North Pacific."
The Canadian officials said their results were consistent with independent testing conducted by a lab in Norway. That lab found one positive reading among multiple tests but also noted the sample was poor and the results could not be reproduced, said Peter Wright, national manager for the Research and Diagnostic Laboratory System with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
But the Norwegian researcher who conducted those tests offered a completely different interpretation of his results.
"Our results are not conclusive, but do suggest ... that an ISA virus is present in wild populations of O. nerka (Pacific sockeye)," Dr. Are Nylund, a professor of biology at the University of Bergen, wrote in an email exchange with The Seattle Times.
"The results do not tell anything about the virulence of this ISA virus or if such a virus represents a danger for the wild and farmed populations of salmon in western pacific."
Wright said the Canadian officials were "erring on the side of caution" by announcing that no virus could be confirmed.
"If something is so badly degraded that you can't measure it, you can't say with any extreme confidence that it's positive or negative," he said."
The CFIA's credibility is now in the balance. The New York Times reported today (9th November):
"Alexandra Morton, a salmon advocate and fish biologist who collected many of the fish tested, said, “We’re just full of questions right now, and I just don’t understand the government coming out and saying there’s no problem.”
The Province newspaper in British Columbia also reported reaction from Professor Rick Routledge of Simon Fraser University (who collected the sockeye samples that led to the first positive tests):
“I remain concerned that the evidence is as yet not thoroughly conclusive,” Routledge said, “and there are a lot of questions that I feel can best be answered by collecting more fresh samples under [strict] protocol and with as much expertise as can be brought to bear.”
Writing in his blog - "Salmongate" - Ivan Doumenc commented:
"Dr. Kiley’s seduction attempt did not succeed. He was met instead with a barrage of hard questions by a very sceptical bunch of journalists. A reporter from the Seattle Times asked some of the most relevant questions of the conference as he tried to piece together the contradictory information he was receiving from his various sources:
Q: You say all tests are negative. But Dr. Nylund from the reference laboratory in Norway told me in an email that the samples suggest ISA is present. Explain this discrepancy.
A: We would consider his report as inconclusive. We would consider that to be negative, because it was not repeatable. Dr. Nylund got only one positive from multiple tests on one sample. And he said it was not reproducible. So technically, according to CFIA standards, it is negative.
Like a compromised fish sample, the quality of the government’s message degraded rapidly. They had started with the solid, simple line that all results were negative. Then, under journalistic pressure, they retreated to a very different and much more complex place, that the results were actually inconclusive. And then, they moved to the realm of the incomprehensible, by stating that a positive could technically be read as a negative."
"I started getting very worried again when Kiley noted that “these supplementary results must be considered inconclusive because of the poor quality of the samples.” Say what? Inconclusive?" wrote Catherine Stewart of Living Oceans Society in her blog - 'Waterblogged'. She continues:
"Peter King, who heads up the Moncton DFO laboratory that did the re-testing of the samples responded (and I quote): “For the most part these samples are either partially – and I say over the half way mark – or totally, totally degraded. Sharing those samples would not be good science. They are in poor condition, we received them in poor condition and moving them anywhere else is not going to help anybody.” He talks about the storage of the samples and the degradation of RNA, then goes on to say: “That’s why we call things inconclusive – because the degradation is so bad you cannot form an opinion from a test standpoint as to whether or not you are capable or not capable. The fact that they come up negative doesn’t really mean anything because they are so badly degraded.”
The negative test “doesn’t really mean anything”? CFIA’s Kiley tries to regain control of the spin: “Or that you get a result that’s positive.”
Ivan Doumenc added in his blog - "Salmongate":
"Damien Gillis from the Common Sense Canadian concluded the press conference with a line of questioning which captured the general sentiment and provided a perfect wrap-up:
Q: What do you make of the precautionary principle?
A: We take any finding of disease very seriously.
Q: It did not sound like it today, though.
A: We use science as our guiding principle in all things. And right now, we can say there is no evidence of ISA in British Columbia.
Q: What you just stated right now is actually the opposite of the precautionary principle.
A: We take it all seriously, that's all I can say.
Where were they hoping to go with this? Because meanwhile, Dr. Alexandra Morton and her team are busy sampling hundreds of wild salmon around British Columbia. When new positives of ISA start coming in (and sadly, they will), how will the CFIA respond, after what they have told to the media today? They have painted themselves into a corner."
As The Seattle Times reported last night:
"This is not the final end of the issue," said James Winton, who directs the fish health section of the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle.
Last week, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported (2nd November) that U.S. senators wrote a letter calling for independent testing of ISA suggesting that Canada could not be trusted.
"We should not rely on another government -- particularly one that may have a motive to misrepresent its findings -- to determine how we assess the risk ISA may pose to American fishery jobs," said the letter, signed by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, both D-Alaska.
In their letter Wednesday (2nd November), Cantwell, Murkowski and Begich urged the U.S. government to obtain samples from the two infected Rivers Inlet sockeye smolts and "run independent diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of the ISA virus in British Columbia."
"The threat of a potentially devastating infectious salmon virus needs an immediate federal response," they argued.
So whilst the U.S. acts, the Canadian Government really doesn't have a clue.
"At the end [of the news teleconference], a reporter introduces herself as Roxanne from the Yukon News and asks if there is further testing done, would it come north and perhaps include the Yukon River?," writes Catherine Stewart in her blog. "Dr. Kiley replies: “No, we do our investigation in Canadian waters.” Now I’m reassured – Canada’s best are on the job."