B.C. premier appoints top deputy to review 'integrity' of fish farm testing lab

Protesters stand outside the Fisheries and Oceans office in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, August, 23, 2017 to rally against fish farms and to bring attention to the protection of the salmon population. Premier John Horgan says he's appointed his top deputy to review the "integrity" of British Columbia's animal testing laboratory after concerns were raised about farmed salmon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Protesters stand outside the Fisheries and Oceans office in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, August, 23, 2017 to rally against fish farms and to bring attention to the protection of the salmon population. Premier John Horgan says he's appointed his top deputy to review the "integrity" of British Columbia's animal testing laboratory after concerns were raised about farmed salmon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VICTORIA - Premier John Horgan appointed his top deputy Wednesday to review the "integrity" of British Columbia's animal testing laboratory after concerns were raised about a potential conflict of interest in test results done on farmed salmon.

Don Wright will conduct the review following recent public comments from a federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist about potential conflicts linked to test results on farmed salmon conducted by the province's Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford because it also does work for the aquaculture industry.

Horgan said the allegations were made in a media report by a federal biologist about test results on farmed Atlantic salmon and their connection to a deadly heart disease in the fish.

"There was a program aired on national television with allegations about the integrity of the system in B.C.," he said. "It was the result of another scientist that works for the federal government making public statements about the integrity of our process. I think all British Columbians would expect that we will do everything we can to reinforce public confidence in these institutions."

A B.C. government website says the Animal Health Centre is the leading accredited full-service veterinary laboratory in Western Canada, offering more than 400 laboratory diagnostic tests for agents that may be found in wild and domestic birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement Wednesday it has a memorandum of understanding with the B.C. lab to conduct diagnostic testing on farmed salmon samples collected through the federal department's fish health audit program.

The statement said one of its scientists at the Pacific biological station in Nanaimo expressed concerns regarding scientific testing conducted by the lab, but the department has not lodged an official complaint.

"The department is aware of Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders's concerns and professional opinion and is following up with both Dr. Miller and the province on this matter," said the statement. "The department believes in letting our scientists speak freely about their research."

Miller-Saunders, who was not immediately available for comment, conducted research that found the first evidence of heart and skeletal muscle inflammation in farmed Atlantic salmon in B.C.

Fish pathologist Gary Marty of the Animal Health Centre said Miller-Saunders was correct to suggest there may be a perception of conflict at the provincial testing laboratory, but there are extenuating circumstances.

Marty said the Abbotsford facility is the largest in Western Canada and it often conducts tests on animals, including farmed salmon, for government and private business. He said governments and private entities use the lab's services rather than leave the country.

"I agree with Dr. Miller," said Marty. "I think it could be perceived as a conflict of interest, however, when you look at the options people have ... your only choice in Canada is the B.C. Animal Health Centre."

A statement from the premier's office said the review will consist of two parts: an examination of whether best practices and ethical standards are being followed at the health centre and it will determine if policies are consistently followed and enforced.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved. 2017

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