ISA Virus and Canada's Damnable Disregard for Salmon Safety

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Chile tried to ignore ISA in 2007. The result was a highly virulent strain that caused $2 billion in damages. Now Chile can't get rid of it. New Zealand is attempting to wrestle away the stigma of ISAv positive results. In eastern Canada so many farms are infected Canada has stopped paying them to cull their fish and just lets the product go to market.

Trade laws make it hard for countries to protect themselves from viruses. So the World Health Organization for Animals (OIE), was formed. It lists the worst diseases as "notifiable." The 178 member countries, such as Canada, are obligated to report these diseases so trade partners can close borders and protect themselves without risking punishment. ISA is one of these notifiable diseases. The US does not want ISA infected farmed salmon, see article. But the companies using BC to raise Norwegian salmon are here because they want to sell to the US. The CFIA confirmed to the Cohen Commission that if ISA virus is found in BC, trade in farmed salmon will stop. See Salmon Confidential

So there is a lot of money riding on whether BC and New Zealand are recognized as ISA positive or not.

In this blog, I am taking the uncomfortable step of naming government officials and publishing documentation on decisions they are making around ISA virus in BC. You can decide whether their behaviour is justifiable and in the public interest or not.

Three government scientists have chosen to respond to ISA virus in a manner that critically elevates the risk of ISA virus spreading through BC:

In 2004, Dr. Simon Jones, senior Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) scientist in Nanaimo, received ISA virus positive test results in 100% the Cultus Lake sockeye and 50% of the east Vancouver Island chinook salmon tested.

Jones ignored these ominous results; never informed the Soowahlie First Nation, refused to allow publication of the data, and apparently did not report them to the CFIA.

When Dr. Rick Routledge of Simon Fraser University and I got similar positive results for Rivers Inlet and Fraser River salmon, the Cohen Commission reopened specifically to examine risk of ISA virus and still these data were not were provided by Dr. Jones. They remained hidden until the lab used to validate these results brought them to the commission. Download Cohen Exh 2045

It is understandable that Dr. Jones might have doubted such volitile results. But as a federal scientist any positive results for an internationally "notiable" virus should have caused him to follow up with extensive testing. He testified to the commission that he never tested for ISA virus again. Jones should have provided these results to the Cohen Commission, with extensive follow-up testing results and the CFIA should have been notified so that steps could have be taken to make sure ISA virus does not spread into Pacific salmon. Hiding these results was not in the public interest and not scientifically defensible.

Dr. Jones remains in his senior position in fish health with DFO.

In 2007, the BC Minister of Agriculture in charge of salmon farms asked the BC provincial veterinarian in charge of farmed salmon, Dr. Mark Sheppard, for a briefing on the risk of ISA virus to BC. The outbreak was just begining in Chile, with an understanding that it had arrived in Norwegian farmed salmon eggs.

Dr Mark Sheppard is a registered veterinarian with the College of Veterinarians of BC. He was in charge of the health of farmed salmon in BC.

However, in a confidential document, Dr. Sheppard briefed the Minister that BC was not at risk from ISA virus because, unlike Chile BC does not import live Atlantic farm salmon eggs. Download Cohen Exh 1679

This is astonishingly inaccurate. In 2007, DFO reports tens of millions of live Atlantic salmon eggs had entered BC for salmon farming and Dr. Sheppard was the man in charge of the health of those Atlantic salmon. How he could inform a minister that no live Atlantic salmon eggs had been imported to BC is hard to fathom! How could the minister fall for so ridiculous a statement? Where did all the millions of Atlantic salmon growing in pens in the Pacific come from?

I sent Sheppard's briefing to the College of Veterinarians of BC, through their complaint/disciplinary process. Every veterinarian operating in BC has to be a member of the CVBC. Veterinarians that misinform a minister regarding a notifiable virus have to be discouraged, otherwise BC has no defense against epidemics in the human food supply.

On April 29, 2014, Douglas S. Casey, Chair of the Investigation Committee of the Veterinarian College dismissed my complaint saying "... the essence of your complaint was considered by the Cohen Commission..." and the College of Veterinarians can dismiss a complaint if the complaint has been "appropriately dealt with in another proceeding."

Download CVBC letter Apr 29,2014.

The Cohen Commission did not "appropriately" deal with Dr. Sheppard's briefing to his minister. They made it a public exhibit, Sheppard did not deny he had written it and then the commission raced on with its massive assignment and tight timeline. There was no dealing with it at all. If the Veterinary College views this as sufficient, BC is at high risk of political interference in containing dangerous pathogens.

Dr. Sheppard now works for the federal government - still in charge of farm salmon health...

When the OIE reference lab at the Atlantic Veterinarian College, PEI, got ISA virus positive results in BC farm salmon samples, the CFIA initiated intense scrutiny.

This PEI lab accurately diagnosed Chile with ISA in 2007 - an outbreak that caused $2 billion in damages. This is the lab that created the ISA testing standards for the OIE. This is the lab New Zealand turned to when farm salmon began dying. The results from this lab where considered accurate until the moment samples from BC and New Zealand came up positive, two regions enjoying beneficial ISA-free trade status. At that point the lab was deemed unreliable, with no public evidence and punished.

On November 5, 2012, Dr. Brian Evans, then Chief Veterinarian and Food Safety Officer for Canada, wrote to the World Health Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to inform them that he supported suspending this lab because the ISA virus positive results for BC were "non-repeatable." The lab was suspended.

Download CFIA (Evans) Letter
By using the word "non-repeatable" Dr. Evans informs us that the tests had been repeated and that the results were not the same. But despite requests, I have never seen these tests.

A year later, the next Chief Veterinary for Canada, Ian Alexander, told me that, in fact, my samples had never been retested.

Download Letter to Alexandra Morton re ISA BC Salmon

This means the OIE was misinformed and that they suspend the lab with information that was not correct. There had been no verification testing done on the ISA positive samples from BC. Regardless of whether ISA is in BC or not the Chief Veterinarian for Canada should not have used the word "non-repeatable" if the tests had not been repeated. And the OIE should have been concerned that they had been misinformed!

This mean the Atlantic Veterinary College results stand unchallenged and BC is at high risk from European ISA virus.

So, I wrote to the OIE Director General, Dr. Bernard Vallat, to inform him that the positive results from his lab are, in fact, undisputed. The OIE's ability to prevent global animal pandemics is only as good as the information provided by the member countries. If a member country provides inaccurate information that is a serious breach in the effort to keep dangerous pathogens contained.

But Dr. Vallat avoided the subject, by writing to me "I encourage you to take up your questions with the relevant jurisdictions."

Since the CFIA was the "relevant" jurisdiction and also the source of my concern this was not helpful and completed dodged a critical look at the threat of ISA to the eastern Pacific.

Then the OIE hired Dr. Brian Evans to the number 2 senior position at the OIE, Deputy Director General

Dr. Brian Evans will now be managing emerging viral trends and trade implications worldwide.

I see this as a breakdown and failure of the system devised to protect the world from viruses that are travelling around the world at unprecendented speed and numbers in farm animals being bought and sold internationally.  

In October 2013, Stephen Harper gave control of the CFIA to Minister of Health, Rona Ambrose, because the Auditor General found the CFIA lacking in their protection of the human food chain.

Stephen Harper recognizes there are serious problems with the CFIA.

Today, Canada has yet another Chief Veterinarian (3rd in 4 years), Dr. Harpreet Kochhar. In January 2014, I briefed him by email that the CFIA has reversed its position on its handling of a botifiable virus, first saying the tests had been repeated, then saying they had not been repeated.

Harpreet has not answered.

Download Dear Dr. Harpreet Kochhar

From the evidence I have seen, I believe ISA virus is in BC. However, setting that question aside, the actions of these people are indefensible.

Jones should have gone back and carefully retested the Cultus Lake sockeye and the east Vancouver Island Chinook. Then he should have brought all those results to the Cohen Commission so that they could stand the test of scrutiny.

Sheppard should have informed the Agriculture Minister that in fact live Atlantic salmon eggs were being imported to BC, that none had been certified as ISA-free before entering the country, because ISA is not on Canada's egg importation forms and since the same companies were operating in Chile and BC, that BC was most certainly at risk from ISA virus.

Two successive Chief Veterinarians of Canada should have the same story about whether tests for a notifiable virus had been repeated or not. It is not acceptable that there are two opposite stories regarding a virus in the influenza family in farm animals.

And Dr. Bernard Vallat, should be concerned when a country cannot offer a solid line of evidence that one of only 2 ISA virus certified labs was wrong when it detected ISA virus sequence in BC and New Zealand. It is Dr. Evans who, in my opinion, should have been suspended until an investigation was completed on why he called test results "non-repeatable."

In closing, if you watch this May 11, 2014 segment of 60 Minutes you will see the senior lawyer for the Cohen Commission face the question; Is ISA virus in BC? This man was privy to half a million government and other documents. He could have said he didn't think ISA virus is in BC, but he didn't. He struggled to find the right words in the legal landscape of his profession and chose the words "I hope not" when asked if it will be too late when ISA is detected in wild salmon, which it has been by numerous government, academic and international labs.

I find this a terrible tragedy and I appologize to future generations that I could not stop this short-sighted dangerous stupidity. The magnitude of the risk due to this carelessness is something future generations will bear and I doubt they will be able to understand how all the mechanisms in place failed them. See more at:

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