Dear Dr. Bernard Vallat
I am writing to you in the wake of the anonymous complaint against Dr. Fred Kibenge’s lab at the Atlantic Veterinary College. With this letter I seek to provide the OIE with a glimpse of the documentation on the biological and political state of ISA virus in British Columbia, Canada. While it remains unrecognized, seven labs have detected ISA virus in British Columbia. Kibenge’s is the only non-government Canadian lab and I own the samples. I am appealing to the OIE to watchdog the situation so that our work can be completed.
As noted in the OIE document: Notification of animal and human diseases Global legal basis, the potential negative economic impact of reporting a new pathogen must not delay a country’s disclosure of a reportable virus. Member countries are asked to take every reasonable step to limit the spread of disease. In this case, the potential social, economic and ecological threat of the ISA virus to the northeastern Pacific should likely be recognized and controlled as soon as possible.
Our understanding of ISA virus in BC has been significantly aided by the recent document production and testimony provided by the federal Cohen Commission into the Decline of the Sockeye Salmon of the Fraser River. The Commission provides documentation on the ISA virus positive test results from seven labs testing wild and/or farmed salmon in BC. Thus, for a window of time, British Columbia has the unprecedented opportunity to work to avoid the characteristically highly virulent outbreak this pathogen is capable of. The only opportunity to control ISA virus in BC is to detect and destroy it in the places most conducive to mutation into an HPR-deleted, highly virulent, made for BC variant. Those places are the high-density environments in salmon farms and hatcheries. To access the Cohen documents cited herein go to: http://www.cohencommission.ca/ Enter the site. On the left-hand side, above “search” enter the word “exhibit” and the numbers I provide below.
It is clear confirmation of ISA virus in BC could have a strong negative impact on Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Grieg Seafoods that make up 95% of the BC salmon farming industry. But it is also apparent from the material below that ISA virus reporting in Canada threatens careers. Counsel for the $26 million Cohen Commission asked a senior DFO scientist if the 2004, ISA virus positive test results for 115 BC salmon were “not disclosed because they were overlooked or were they deliberately set aside and not disclosed.”
The current non-government work to assess ISA virus in British Columbia is exceptional in several ways.
1. It is underway pre-epidemic.
2. Most of the farm salmon samples are purchased from supermarkets, not acquired directly from the farms and
3. some of the European ISA virus sequence has come from Pacific salmon.
We are thus in unchartered territory, because European ISA virus has not been studied in wild, free-swimming Pacific salmon. The ISA virus probes and primers are extremely sensitive, while the virus has great capacity for mutation. Novel hosts can be expected to stimulate mutation in exactly the region of the virus that determines the levels of virulence. All of this makes testing difficult. The slightest mutation in specific regions of the virus will cause the probes to fail. Accusations of contamination are widespread against labs doing this work, but the challenges presented by a European ISA genotype loose in the Pacific Ocean has to be considered as well.
The private sector is shouldering the cost of assessing the presence of ISA virus in BC, using the highest standards available, in as open and transparent a method as we are allowed. Government, industry, neighbouring countries, trade partners and shareholders should regard this work favourably, as they all stand to benefit. The alternative is to allow whatever virus the labs are detecting to continue with unchecked access to novel hosts.
The situation is politically charged. A law was drafted a few months ago by British Columbia to make public release of information on reportable diseases in farm animals punishable by two years in prison and a $75,000 fine. While not passed, this Bill 37 remains on the order papers of the BC Government.
ISA virus is an incalculable threat to the eastern North Pacific. As per my interpretation of your revised, September 2012 OIE Chapter on ISA virus, and given the level of ISA virus detection in many of the labs, it is my view that British Columbia is ISA virus positive. It is extremely difficult to communicate with the government labs, but we are working to provide the evidence that will prove or disprove this.
The OIE newly revised Chapter 10.5. Infectious Salmon Anemia, (September 2012)
The OIE very recently significantly updated their previous ISA virus Chapter 10.5. (2010). The new definition of an ISAv-positive region is simply finding “any detectable ISAV.” This is much more sensitive than the previous criteria: “Mortality, clinical signs and pathological changes,” “isolation of the virus in cell culture from at least two independent samples,” “isolation and identification in cell culture from a fish on the farm with corroborating evidence of ISAV in tissue...” The new OIE policy also initiates recommendation to restrict movement of whole eviscerated fish from ISAv positive regions, suggesting further risk assessment of such product. This is exactly the type of fish where Dr. Kibenge has detected ISAv sequence matching the virulent HPR5 and HPR7b. The OIE’s upgrade appears designed to head off outbreaks and responds effectively to the ongoing findings of the OIE reference lab at the Atlantic Veterinary College. The OIE standard is now much more sensitive than the outdated Canadian standard requiring culture to confirm ISA virus and this may be causing bureaucratic dysfunction.
Download OIE notification-EN copy copy.pdf (233.6K)
What prompted delivery of BC samples to Kibenge’s OIE lab at AVC
On March 1, 2010, a BC environmental group won a decision by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia to obtain access to the BC farm salmon disease records. In the decision document (Order F10-06, page 24) we see the fish farm companies threaten to cease participating in the provincial audits if their disease records were made public. In the end the environmental group never released the disease records after receiving them, but in April 2010, the fish farm companies operating in BC did indeed inform the Province of British Columbia that audits could no longer be conducted on the health of their fish. At the same time, the three Norwegian operators signed a memorandum of understanding to share information with each other specifically about viruses. Six months earlier, in the summer of 2009 Marine Harvest began asking the provincial vet, Dr. Gary Marty for private tests for the ISA virus (Cohen Exhibits, 1549-309, - 318, -322). They requested 32 such tests and no salmon farming company ever imported salmon eggs to BC again.
In 2011, the Cohen Commission www.cohencommission.ca released the BC farm salmon health audit records by provincial vet, Dr. Gary Marty http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/ahc/staff.htm. These records, now public exhibits, contain over 1,000 references to detection of ISA-type lesions (Cohen Exhibit 1549-217) in the BC quarterly audit data 2006-April 2010 (when the salmon farming industry declined to participate any longer). (If you require an excel version I can provide that to you). See also the reports Dr. Marty made directly to the companies (Cohen Exhibits 1549-309, - 318, -322). This document production by the Cohen Commission offers a view into farm salmon health unprecedented worldwide.
In addition to ISA virus lesions, Dr. Marty also reports lesions he identifies as consistent with Salmon Alphavirus, the jaundice condition of coho in Chile (Smith et al. 2006) and Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). It would now appear that Dr. Marty is highly accurate in his histological interpretations.
In 2011, the Cohen Commission www.cohencommission.ca released the BC farm salmon health audit records by provincial vet, Dr. Gary Marty. These records, now public exhibits, contain over 1,000 references to detection of ISA-type lesions (Cohen Exhibit 1549-217) in the BC quarterly audit data 2006-April 2010 (when the salmon farming industry declined to participate any longer). (If you require an excel version I can provide that to you). See also the reports Dr. Marty made directly to the companies (Cohen Exhibits 1549-309, - 318, -322). This document production by the Cohen Commission offers a view into farm salmon health unprecedented worldwide.
In addition to ISA virus lesions, Dr. Marty also reports lesions he identifies as consistent with Salmon Alphavirus, the jaundice condition of coho in Chile (Smith et al. 2006) and Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). It would now appear that Dr. Marty is highly accurate in his histological interpretations.
I decided to go out and check if these viruses were in BC salmon, farmed and wild.
The Rivers Inlet Sockeye samples – ground zero – in the BC debate
The fish that ignited the debate - is ISA virus in BC - were 2 out of 48 Rivers Inlet sockeye smolts submitted to Dr. Kibenge by Dr. Rick Routledge of Simon Fraser University. Routledge wanted to rule out ISA virus in an inexplicably declining population of wild salmon that he is studying. Simon Fraser University held a press conference to get these results into the public domain, seeing this as a serious, time-sensitive situation and hoping to elicit scientific investigation. At that time, the public was unaware of any ISA positive test results. Government and industry had testified under oath only weeks earlier in the Cohen Commission that ISA virus had never been detected in BC. It is ironic the debate was ignited with these fish because they were highly-degraded, having been stored for months in a household-type freezer for stomach content analysis. The viral work was an after-thought.
While it is commonly presented that DFO could not reproduce Dr. Kibenge’s positive result in these salmon, below is a November 4, 2011 email from Ms. Nellie Gagne, DFO Moncton lab, sometimes called the National Reference Lab, to Dr. Peter Wright (DFO) and others titled: – Good News? Bad News
The homogenates (19, heart and gills) were done and one very weak (almost 38) showed up, in one duplicate only.
It is not one of the positives of AVC...
I am not convinced it should be reported to our friends in Ottawa, guess why !”
We do not like to see a Ct like this, but this is the type of Ct that is equivalent to the finding by Nylund, i.e. I can’t conclude anything from it.
Nellie” (Cohen Exhibit 2040)
A list of ISA positives found in British Columbia salmon in 7 different labs
1.) Nellie Gagne (DFO/CFIA) weak positive among the 48 Rivers Inlet sockeye. There has been no other reporting on results from samples she has been sent that also tested positive in Dr. Kibenge’s lab. The media continues to report on these 48 samples without mention of the growing list of positives in BC farm salmon.
2.) Cohen exhibit 2053, Farmed chinook salmon, Clayoquot Sound. Creative Salmon provided samples to Dr. Kristi Miller (DFO), Pacific Biological Station, to figure out why their fish were experiencing unexplained persistent mortality and jaundice condition. In Cohen Exhibit 2053, test results are given for 47 farm salmon, from two different salmon farms, 12 tested positive for ISAv.
3.) Cohen exhibit 2060, lists many ISAv positives from the Miller lab (DFO) in wild sockeye salmon from a large number of commercially and socially important BC salmon rivers. Samples were collected in 2007-2010. Miller reports some primers work better than others: “So I believe that what we have in B.C. is a somewhat divergent strain of ISA that is not universally picked up with all -- with the assays that are presently in use... there is always the possibility that you will develop an assay that doesn't pick other variants that you didn't know about. And I believe that that's what's happening here.” (Cohen Commission Testimony, Dec 15, 2011, Page 22)
4.) Sonja Saksida, BC Centre for Aquatic Health Services, reported ISA PCR positives to the CFIA in the farm chinook salmon from Creative Salmon, sequence confirmed for ISA-P7. The only mention of this reporting is in an email from Miller to Stephen Stephens (DFO, OTTAWA) Cohen Exhibit 2055.
5.) Cohen Exhibit 2043, 2056 – positive results by Dr. Kyle Garver, Pacific Biological Station DFO described by Dr. Miller: “So he ran basically the validated assay that Nellie uses, and the ISA-7 Plarre assay and he was able -- he was not able to pick up any positives using the DFO validated assay, but he did pick up a positive of ISA-7 using our assay with our pre-amplification.”
6.) Cohen Exhibit 2045, a 2004 draft paper coauthored by Drs. Molly and Fred Kibenge and Drs. Simon Jones and Garth Traxler (DFO) reporting 115 ISA virus positive results. These results demonstrate up to 99.7% identity to an ISAv isolate from Norway. Sequence was produced. These samples included Atlantic salmon, wild salmon from Alaskan waters, throughout BC and 100% of the Cultus Lake sockeye tested, a Fraser sockeye population that has been declining despite efforts to restore it. It is unclear whether the Americans or the CFIA were informed. This work was never provided to the Cohen Commission by DFO. Dr. Fred Kibenge provided this document to the Commission when he was asked by the Commission to provide all information on ISAv in BC.
7.) Kibenge, AVC, results on 2/48 River’s Inlet sockeye smolts positive for European ISAv genotype
8.) Are Nylund, U. Bergen weak ISA virus positives among the 48 sockeye smolts and ongoing positives in BC samples I am providing to his lab.
9.) Kibenge, AVC, results on 3/11 salmon that died in the Fraser River without spawning positive for European strain ISAv; chinook, coho, sockeye. I am the owner of these samples and they were provided to the CFIA
10.) Kibenge, AVC, results on HPR5 sequenced from a female chum salmon in the Vedder River, a tributary to Cultus Lake. I am owner of these samples and they were provided to the CFIA
11.) Kibenge, AVC, positive results on 19 farm salmon bought in supermarkets in the city of Vancouver. Many are HRP5, one HPR7b, this work is ongoing and will be more fully reported when complete. I am the owner of these samples and they were provided to the CFIA.
Despite all these labs, reporting ISA virus positive results, including 3 DFO labs, the DFO position remains - no salmon in BC have tested positive for ISA virus.
Dec. 4, 2012 “In recent years, the Government of Canada and B.C. have tested more than 5,000 wild and farmed salmon in B.C. for infectious salmon anemia. None has ever tested positive.” http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/confirmed+disease+salmon/7646808/story.html
There is currently only one lab known to have tested BC salmon for ISA virus reporting 100% negative results. The provincial lab run by Dr. Gary Marty, BC’s Provincial Animal Health Centre reports ISA virus “negative” results for 7,002 BC farm salmon. (Cohen Exhibit 2146). It is unclear what protocol he is using.
A common finding throughout ISA virus positive results for BC is that they are “inconsistent.” Real time PCR positive results come and go between replicates. Dr. Miller’s work demonstrates that different probes behave differently (Cohen Exhibit 2060). This suggests that the trouble identifying this virus may not be a failure by the labs, but rather the unique nature of this variant of virus.
As Greg McDade, a participant lawyer for the Cohen Commission stated in his final argument:
“The independent findings by Dr. Nylund and Dr. Kibenge in the initial Rivers Inlet group of 48 fish provided them with the confirmation of each other, and on a statistical basis eliminate any reasonable possibility of contamination or other laboratory error.
The subsequent findings of Dr. Miller are again confirmatory of both Dr. Kibenge and Dr. Nylund. The fact that Dr. Miller used different primers, a different machine, and a different methodology, but also produced positive findings, itself provides another level of confirmation that reduces any possibility of a consistent error. Dr. Miller’s genetic approach is novel and advanced, but this is not grounds to reject it. Dr. Kibenge, the OIE designated expert on ISA, considered her results to be credible. Dr. Miller is a senior DFO scientist, in charge of the genomics lab, and it would not serve DFO or Canada well to contest the credibility of her findings.
“It appears that there is likely considerable sequence variation within BC strains of the virus” (Dr. Kristi Miller, Cohen Exhibit 2061)
Pacific salmon that tested positive for ISA virus - fighting the flu
The most interesting substantiation of ISA virus in BC is contained within Cohen Commission Exhibit 2052 describing the genomic expression profile in ISAv positive salmon. These results suggest that BC salmon may not be carrying this virus without cost. The Miller Lab examined whether salmon were responding at a cellular level to the presence of the ISA virus. Post-doctoral student, Brad Davis, used the fish’s immune response to gauge impact of the virus on the fish. The work produced a very strong signal indicating that the immune systems of ISAv positive salmon are fighting influenza. Since ISA is an influenza-type virus this suggests that even if Pacific are not exhibiting exterior sign of ISA virus, their immune systems appear to be actively engaged in fighting the flu. This work also provides novel supporting evidence that ISA virus is present in British Columbia. Based on this work it would be premature and unsupportable to suggest ISA virus is not causing disease in BC.
ISA virus positive results 2004, not disclosed – Cohen Testimony
Before Dr. Fred Kibenge tested Dr. Rick Routledge’s Rivers Inlet smolts, Cohen Commission participant lawyer, Greg McDade specifically questioned government and the salmon farming industry if ISA virus had been detected in BC:
DR. MacWILIAMS: There has been no indication of ISA or ISAV on this coast in B.C. (DFO Fish Health)
DR. MARTY: And so that gives me a great deal of confidence that we don’t have ISAV in British Columbia (Farm Salmon Fish Pathologist, Animal Health Centre, BC)
CLARE BACKMAN: The level of surveys done in the country of origin and then again, the quarantine and follow-up sampling here in British Columbia has been successful in preventing any exotic disease, including this particular one, ISAV (Marine Harvest Director of Communication and Community Relations)
PETER MCKENZIE: We have over 5,000 tests for ISAV all are negative, and that gives us an extremely high level of confidence that our industry is free from ISAV (ex CFIA, now Cermaq veterinarian and Fish Health Manager, board of BC Centre for Aquatic Health Services)
But when the Cohen Commission reopened in response to Dr. Kibenge’s ISA virus positive results, we learned that, in fact, DFO had 115 ISA virus positive results in BC salmon. As an NSERC student in 2002, Dr. Molly Kibenge embarked on a project looking for viruses in BC salmon. She found ISA virus and was never allowed to make this public. The table below from this draft work, shows where these positive results were from, including 64 out of 64 of the Cultus Lake sockeye tested. Cultus Lake is part of the Fraser River sockeye population. Thus, this draft paper should have been submitted to the Cohen Commission by Dr. Simon Jones, a senior DFO scientist and expert witness to the Commission into the Decline of the Sockeye Salmon of the Fraser River. Molly Kibenge was a student in his lab; he was in charge of the fate of this study as seen below. Jones never did disclose this work to the Commission, even when the Commission reopened to hear evidence specifically on the ISA virus in BC. It was Dr. Fred Kibenge who submitted the work to the Commission. It is Cohen Exhibit 2045 and it changed the entire tone of the hearings.
A November 4, 2011 email from Simon Jones to Dr. Molly Kibenge attached to this Exhibit.
“... I do not give permission to submit this work, whether in this manuscript or any other, for publication.” (Cohen Exhibit 2045).
MARTLAND (Commission Counsel): I suppose the basic question is were these documents not disclosed because they were overlooked or were they deliberately set aside and not disclosed?
DR. JONES (DFO): I was certainly aware that we had conducted that work, but there was no reason to assign any importance to that. It was a series of experiments that yield some puzzling results that were not verifiable and it didn't seem to add meaning to -- it didn't seem to contribute to anything other than that this was a confusing piece of information that -- yeah, was essentially a negative result. (Cohen Commission Transcript Dec. 16, 2011, Pg. 126)
These results should have triggered further study out of concern for the wild and farmed salmon in British Columbia, but no follow-up work is evident. It is unknown if the CFIA or the salmon farming industry were alerted. It is unknown why DFO halted this work.
While Dr. Gary Marty was recording “the classic lesions associated with ISA infection” in nearly every salmon farm audited 2006 - April 2010, (Cohen Exhibit 1549-217), Dr. Jones of the Pacific Biological Station (DFO) had ISA virus positive test results in the BC wild salmon that were swimming amongst the Atlantic salmon farms where Dr. Marty was recording classic ISA virus lesions.
In light of this, the question has to be asked; if the Federal government of Canada failed to disclose 115 positive test results for a reportable virus, what assurances do we have that the Provincial Government of British Columbia has not done the same thing? Are they withholding ISA virus positive test results as well? The only lab not reporting 100% test results for ISA virus is the provincial lab where Dr. Gary Marty reports 7,002 negative tests, most of these tests were done on the natural host species for ISAv, Atlantic salmon. (Cohen Exhibit 2146). Dr. Marty was not called to testify at the ISA hearings.
International trade implications
In the March 27, 2012, the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Don McRae spoke in the BC Parliament:
“... when ISA was first talked about from the lab in P.E.I.... There were lawmakers and legislators both in the United States — various states bordering British Columbia — and in Asia who at that time were speculating and pushing for closing our market share. ... if we had followed the protocols accordingly, I think it would have been more appropriate in terms of making sure we did not threaten our international markets.” (BC Hansard )
KLOTINS: So if, let's say, we do find ISA in B.C. and all of a sudden markets are closed, our role is then to try to renegotiate or negotiate market access to those countries. Now, what it will be is a matter of they'll let us know what the requirements are. We'll let them know what we can do and whether we can meet that market access. If we can't meet it, then there will be no trade basically. (Cohen Testimony Dec. 19, 2011, Page 109)
November 2, 2011, a CFIA internal email from Dr. Kim Klotins to Cornelius Kiley:
“I’m thinking we should advise all laboratories in Canada to not test any more samples of wild finfish for ISAV from the Pacific Ocean (Canada and US).” (Cohen Exhibit 2104)
Notification of animal and human diseases Global legal basis – OIE document
This OIE document lends advice to the current state of affairs surrounding ISA virus detection in British Columbia, Canada. “Notification of diseases may have a negative impact on the economic performance of a country” It also states “new information technologies and practices make it difficult for governments to hide occurrences of serious notifiable diseases.”
The document emphasizes; “Member Countries have unconditional duties to disclose all relevant information about animal diseases".
When I contacted the CFIA, April 6, 2011, to ask if suspect ISA virus had ever been reported in BC, the emailed reply from Nathalie Bruneau, CFIA was “All suspected or confirmed cases of ISA that have been reported to date by the CFIA to the OIE are from parts of Eastern Canada.” Does this suggest none of the results from Dr. Jones’s lab had been reported to the national authority on animal pathogens in Canada?
Ratification of OIE membership comes with international legally binding reporting obligations. “The withholding of information on a disease situation from the OIE by an OIE Member would also amount – regardless of the grounds – to a violation of the OIE Organic Statutes.” Canada is a member, providing $2 million to the OIE in February 2010 http://www.oie.int/for-the-media/press-releases/detail/article/oie-receives-a-canadian-2-million-contribution-from-canada-for-animal-health-activities/ to support safe trade.
The OIE Notification of diseases document stresses the importance of rapid reporting of reportable pathogens in an effort to protect society from disease.
The ISA virus sequence obtained in Dr. Jones’s lab in 100% of Cultus Lake sockeye tested and 50% of east Vancouver Island chinook, both highly valuable wild salmon stocks directly exposed to Atlantic salmon farms, does not appear to have been reported to the CFIA as per the response to my email.
Annie Champagne (CFIA) wrote to me on June 6, 2011: “Infectious salmon anaemia is a reportable disease in Canada. This means that anyone who owns or works with aquatic animals, who knows of or suspects infectious salmon anaemia in the animals that they own or work with, is required by law to notify the CFIA. ”
8. No person shall conceal the existence of a reportable disease or toxic substance among animals. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/H-3.3/page-3.html#docCont
CFIA – Cohen Testimony
On December 16, 2011, Brock Martland, Cohen Commission Counsel, questioned the CFIA about this email from Joseph Beres regarding Dr. Kibenge’s ISA virus positive results.
"It is clear that we are turning the PR tide to our favour, ... One battle is won, now we have to nail the surveillance piece, and we will win the war, also". (Cohen Exhibit 2110)
MARTLAND: It's from someone named Joseph Beres. Who is he?
DR. KLOTINS [CFIA]: Joseph Beres works in CFIA operations in the western area, more specifically out of the Burnaby office, and on this particular disease response he's one of the co-leaders for the team that's running the response.
MARTLAND: Okay. So he’s involved in the CFIA’s active investigation right now?
DR KLOTINS: Yes. Yes, he still is, yes.
MARTLAND: That language, that way of framing it ...suggests that CFIA is going into this with a hypothesis or with an end goal... Is the CFIA going into this out of a concern for trade partners and other interests with a view to, however we get there, to announcing there is no ISAV? (Transcript, Dec 16, page 112)
Did DFO management understand their lab results on the 48 sockeye were not 100% “negative”?
On November 8, 2011, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) made a News Release:
“No Confirmed Cases of Infectious Salmon Anaemia in British Columbia”
Commission participant lawyer, Greg McDade asked DFO about the 4th paragraph:
“DFO has tested all 48 samples received as part of the original investigation and the results are all negative for the virus. These results are consistent with the findings of an independent laboratory in Norway, which also tested samples associated with this investigation and provided a report to the CFIA” (DFO News Release, Cohen exhibit 2029)
MCDADE: In the fourth paragraph [of Government of Canada “News Release”] it says that DFO has tested all 48 samples...and the results are all negative for the virus. Is that a correct statement, Mr. Stephen?
MR. STEPHEN: (DFO Director Aquatic Health, Ottawa): I think Dr. Wright might be able to provide a better answer to that than I.
MCDADE: Well, before Dr. Wright answers, I want to know what your views were.
MR. STEPHEN: I was advised by our laboratories, yes, that was a correct statement.
MCDADE: That's Nellie Gagné's laboratory?
MR. STEPHEN: That's correct.
MCDADE: Now, you heard her testify, didn't you?
MR. STEPHEN: I did.
MCDADE: And you heard her testify that her statements were not negative, they were inconclusive because there wasn't enough RNA present to be able to make a conclusive statement; isn't that right?
MR. STEPHEN: I'm not sure I recall that exactly, no. I heard a lot of testimony in a day and a half.
MCDADE: Well, let me suggest to you that she agreed that without some qualification that would be misleading, the qualification being that the results were too degraded to be able to test.
MCDADE: Before you answer, Dr. Klotins, I want Mr. Stephen's answer on this.
MR. STEPHEN: Could you repeat the question, please.
MCDADE: I understood her evidence to be that the samples were so degraded that she couldn't say that they were negative, that they were inconclusive, and further that she would have expected a statement to that effect in the release, otherwise it would be misleading. What's your view on that?
MR. STEPHEN: On my understanding from the information I was provided that those samples were negative.
MCDADE: You didn't know that they were inconclusive.
MR. STEPHEN: I knew that some samples were inconclusive based on degradation of other materials, the 299 fish that were collected from Dr. Routledge. But I wasn't aware that these particular ones were degraded to that level, no.
MCDADE: The next statement says: These results are consistent with the findings of an independent laboratory in Norway... Now, did you hear Dr. Nylund testify that he found positives?
MR. STEPHEN: I did.
MCDADE: Doesn't the word "consistent" there mean they're all negative? How is a positive from him consistent with negatives from the other?
MR. STEPHEN: I don't know.
MCDADE: All right. Do you agree that's very misleading, isn't it?
MR. STEPHEN: I wouldn't say it's misleading. I said I don't know who put that comment in there.
MCDADE: Dr. Klotins, do you know?
DR. KLOTINS [CFIA, Vet Epidemiologist, Risk Assessment]: That would have been an assessment by the CFIA, an assessment of all the information we had gathered to date, an assessment of whether those findings were true positives or false positives, and also in terms of the negative testing, how confident we could feel in that.
MCDADE: Let me go back to the question of the Fraser River fish. Do you not see that issuing this statement when you were fully aware that there are positives also in the Fraser River it’s misleading to the Canadian public?
DR. KLOTINS: I have to disagree
Cohen Commission Testimony, December 19, 2011 beginning on page 41
Cohen testimony regarding BC ministerial briefing on risk of ISA to British Columbia
In 2007, Dr. Mark Sheppard, the Managing Veterinarian of the Provincial Fish Health Program wrote a Confidential Briefing on the risk of ISA to British Columbia for the Minister of Agriculture and Lands – the BC ministry in charge of salmon farms at that time. It was written to assess the risk of ISAv to BC in light of the 2007 Chilean ISA outbreak. It is now public Cohen Exhibit 1679.
In this briefing, Dr. Mark Sheppard advised his minister that importation of live Atlantic salmon eggs and movement of Atlantic salmon between farms had contributed to the Chilean ISA epidemic.
Dr. Sheppard assures the Minister that BC was at low risk for ISA virus because:
“These high-risk activities are not allowed in BC.”
Dr. Sheppard goes on:
“The most likely source for ISA in BC is from migrating wild fishes from other regions of the Pacific Ocean as there is no importation of live Atlantic salmon or eggs to BC”
This sentence is hard to understand because, at the time of writing the DFO reports ~ 26 million, presumably live, Atlantic eggs had been imported to BC. http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/aquaculture/reporting-rapports/egg-oeuf-eng.htm Dr. Mark Sheppard was and still is the government vet in charge of the health of the fish that hatched from those eggs.
In addition, farm salmon are frequently moved between BC fish farm sites, from saltwater smolt sites to saltwater grow-out sites and for various other reasons. Dr. Sheppard continues in his briefing to the minister:
“The presence of ISA would profoundly impact a company’s business due to initial slaughter orders of entire populations and subsequent bio-containment activity.”
Dr. Sheppard describes his role as a provincial vet in his testimony to the Cohen Commission:
“... my role was, literally, with the Provincial Government was as the aquatic animal health veterinarian to oversee the Fish Health Program for the Province and it's largely a program to monitor and collect, and record, and then report out on the information of health-related findings at the farm on an audit basis.” (Cohen Testimony Aug. 31, 2011, Page 23)
Dr. Sheppard is the bureaucratic link between Dr. Gary Marty’s records reporting “classic lesions associated with the ISA virus infection” and a provincial minister seeking risk assessment on the potential for ISA virus to reach British Columbia, in light of the economically damaging epidemic involving the same companies in Chile. This was 4 years after DFO got 115 positive ISA virus results in BC wild salmon. As Managing Veterinarian of the Provincial Fish Health Program, Dr. Sheppard must have known most of the farm salmon in BC were Atlantic salmon.
When Dr. Sheppard faced this document during the Cohen Commission he turned to Justice Cohen and addressed him directly:
“Mr. Commissioner, as you’re aware, these briefing notes sometimes are drafted and then go places after me. But I have to admit that this one, to my recollection, was done -- and sometimes these briefing notes take some time to develop before they get sent along, and this was done in a fairly rushed manner, based on a media report, I think the day previous. And that particular statement I would probably tend to word more accurately now.” (Cohen Commission testimony Aug. 31, 2011, Page 68)
When jurisdiction of salmon farming was removed from the provincial government into the federal government, Dr. Sheppard was hired by DFO as Lead Veterinarian – Pacific Region, Aquaculture Management Division DFO and continues in his role.
Atlantic Salmon Egg Imports – ISA virus risk or not
ISA virus is not included on the Canadian Fish Health Certificate egg import form. As such when 30 million eggs entered BC, no one had to sign anything guaranteeing that the eggs did not contain ISA virus.
On August 31, 2011 Dr. Peter McKenzie, Veterinarian and Fish Health Manager, Mainstream Canada [Cermaq] testified on the lack of ISA virus reporting on the Fish Health Certificate.
QUESTION: Right. And I don't see ISA on that list.
DR. McKENZIE: There is also a provision under the Fish Health Protection Regulations where they stipulate "any filterable agent," so there's sort of a catchall phrase for any unknown disease. But that is the -- those are the criteria that are currently in regulation.
QUESTION: And would ISA be caught under the other filterable replicating agent?
DR. McKENZIE: Yes, it would. (Cohen testimony, Aug. 31, 2011, Page 48, 49)
Given the tremendous difficulty interpreting ISA virus positive results it is hard to understand how a much more generalized test could effectively screen for ISA virus.
DR. McKENZIE: So Dr. Hammell is the Director of the OIE Collaborating Centre on Epidemiology & Risk Assessment for Aquatic Animal Diseases, and so he's -- and he has a tremendous amount of experience in the area of ISA. ... we asked him to conduct a risk assessment of the practices of importation into British Columbia from 1985 until 2009. (Cohen Testimony August 31, 2011, Page 78)
Dr. Larry Hammell’s risk assessment states:
“The primary concern from a biological and economic consequence perspective is the potential to introduce ISAV, IPNV, SAV (or Pancreas Disease, PD) or Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI, associated with a novel Reovirus (Palacios et al, 2010).) As there is no evidence to support egg involvement in transmission for SAV/PD (Rodger and Mitchell, 2007) or for HSMI (Kongtorp et al, 2006), neither is considered for its potential consequence. ISAV has been devastating to Chile (Mardones et al, 2009), causing a drastic reduction in Atlantic salmon farming but has little effect on Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus) species (Rolland and Winton, 2003). For this reason, the Atlantic salmon farming industry is at much greater risk of negative consequences than wild salmon populations.” (Cohen Exhibit 1982)
Note: Piscine reovirus is common in BC farm salmon test results by Dr. Kibenge. Dr. Marty has confirmed it is common in BC farm salmon as well http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/04/25/bc-salmon-virus-morton-inquiry.html Kibenge has also gotten a number of positive results for Salmon Alphavirus in BC farm salmon. This work is ongoing.
Dr. Hammell’s report continues:
“The probability that eyed eggs imported from 1995 to 2009 introduced any new pathogens to British Columbia is ‘extremely low’ to ‘remote’.”
“Pathogens not known in the early years of egg importation (e.g. ISAV, SAV) did not have testing to confirm their absence in the imported egg or their brood stock. However, the fact that these pathogens have little or no conclusive evidence of vertical transmission, absence of clinical disease in broodstock and tests that often detected other pathogens (such as virus isolation on cell lines that are quite permissive to these viruses), mean that other measures coincidentally reduced the probability of the introducing exotic pathogens, even if not yet discovered.”
Dismissal of vertical transmission of ISA virus seems outdated and yet this expert opinion was provided to the Cohen Commission in 2011. Two parallel outlooks exist in Canada without cross -pollination;
1. that ISA virus is significant pathogen, given to rapid mutation, moving long distances in Atlantic salmon eggs can cause economically damaging outbreaks and a concern to BC vs.
2. ISA virus is unlikely to move in eggs and not a concern to BC
Dr. Hammell’s website http://avc.upei.ca/profile/research/providing-evidence recommends there are “less bad” ISAv strains and this designation should guide which infected farm salmon are depopulated and which are not. This view seems at cross-purposes with the current OIE view on ISA virus - that all strains are potentially dangerous, and must be controlled even HPR0 because of its recognized capacity to mutate.
QUESTION: Dr. McKenzie, how do you reply to people whose rhetoric suggests that ISA can be introduced through egg importation?
DR McKENZIE: I have to admit, Mr. Commissioner, that the rhetoric that continues on about ISA introductions and importation is concerning to me, both personally and professionally.... we have now a report from CFIA that, you know, they've looked at the data we have on ISA and they see it as a no-risk, in their words from their report, and Canada recognizes, based on international standards, that B.C. is free of ISA, based on this infrastructure of fish health expertise that is in place. But - but - the commentary by people that a lot of it was initiated when Ms. Morton raised the concerns of the ISA reports, comments of that constantly in the media seem to dissuade or dismiss all of this expertise in these layers of audits and credentials. And professionally I find that very, very concerning that we can have this many individuals, skilled individuals involved, and we can have people interpret, non-fish health experts interpret information and run with it and create this type of -- this type of situation. So I find that hard -- it's hard to understand. (Cohen Commission testimony, Aug. 31, 2011, Page 78)
It is imperative to complete science that will be open to the world community of scientists for review to answer these questions.
Efforts to discredit
I think it is important to recognize what scientists who report on novel farm salmon disease outbreaks endure unpleasant consequence.
Consider Dr. Kristi Miller who runs a federal DFO government lab with a staff of 22. She is well published including in the journal of SCIENCE on the 18-year decline of the Fraser sockeye. Miller is adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, on the editorial board of Immunogenetics, a scientific reviewer, and sought after to give seminars internationally. Miller, dedicated to sharing her work on immune function and disease in fish, has co-published in over 65 scientific papers. A BC salmon farming company went to her with unexplained mortality in jaundiced farmed chinook salmon. But when she detected ISA virus in these fish (Cohen Exhibit 2053), her work did not elicit government response to confirm and contain. These farm salmon were in several floating netpen farms in the region of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Biosphere status was partly due to its wild chinook runs, runs that are inexplicably crashing. DFO should be concerned to find ISA virus in farmed chinook salmon among a declining wild chinook population. But the only visible government response was to muzzle this scientist. http://margaretmunro.wordpress.com/tag/kristi-miller/
Then there is the team of Norwegian researchers who published the finding that ISA virus was transported to Chile in Atlantic salmon eggs. A company filed a Scientific Misconduct complaint against them (defined as falsification, fabrication, serious breach of good scientific practice...) When the University of Bergen’s investigation concluded there had been no misconduct, Aquagen, http://aquagen.no/En/About_Aqua_Gen/Owners_of_Aqua_Gen/ a company that ships eggs to Chile, pushed the investigation to the national level. The Report on the National Commission for the Investigation of Scientific Misconduct also found Dr. Nylund and his co-authors “not guilty of scientific misconduct.” Although there were unfavourable details noted, these did not rate as “misconduct,” nor did they alter the result. The decision document recognizes that such proceedings negatively impact the reputation of a researcher regardless of outcome www.ebookbrowse.com/nylund-ethics-investigation-pdf-d316561910
Now to Dr. Fred Kibenge. Similar to Miller, the salmon farming industry went to Kibenge to rule out ISA virus in Chilean salmon farms experiencing unexplained mortality. He found ISA, HPR7b and very quickly the virus spread to cause $2 billion in damages. The industry used Kibenge’s lab without complaint through that epidemic. They needed his expertise. The only difference I see in this case in BC is that it was not the BC salmon farming industry that went to Kibenge for information. In this case, it was the academic community who went to him to rule out ISA virus.
But we have to also consider the position of the CFIA, who testified at the Cohen Commission that if ISA virus is recognized in British Columbia, trade in BC farm salmon could stop. What kind of pressure are they under? If Kibenge’s work is not allowed to run its course, the questions about ISA virus in BC might stop in the short-term, but will Canada further damage its agricultural export reputation? Recently, the CFIA was implicated in an international E. coli scandal when a 2008 CFIA memo instructing inspectors to “ignore visible fecal splatter and intestinal contamination on meat for Canadians.” The US Department of Agriculture currently auditing the CFIA http://news.sympatico.ctvnews.ca/local/bc/beef_inspectors_told_to_turn_blind_eye_to_contaminated_carcasses/0208a4b8.
If the pressure created by international trade is greater than agencies and individuals can bear it falls to international organizations like the OIE to protect food security and society.
The CFIA, DFO and the Kibenge Lab
MCDADE: Could we have Exhibit 2101 on the screen. It's an email that you looked at on Friday, Dr. Klotins. It's dated October 19th, 2011 at 3:35. The subject of this email is Dr. Kibenge's laboratory. Is it correct that as of October 19th, 2011, CFIA had already determined that one of the reactions it was going to have to this finding of positive results is to go and check Dr. Kibenge's lab?
DR. KLOTINS: Yes. It was one of the options on the table that we would ascertain, try to get some more information to help make a determination whether the results he got on the PCR test are true positives or false positives.
QUESTION: No, I didn't ask you if you were going to confirm his results. What I said was you were going to go and attack his credibility, the credibility of his lab. You were going to go and check his lab, weren't you?
DR. KLOTINS: I disagree.
QUESTION: You weren't going to go check his lab. That isn't what this email says?
QUESTION: Well, let me put it in the nicest possible way. You were going to go check the credibility of his lab?
QUESTION: And, Mr. Stephen, I suggest to you that the federal government is going to try and take away his OIE certification as a punishment for this; is that right? That's what you're going to do, isn't it?
MR. STEPHEN: I have no authority to do anything about his OIE certification.
MCDADE: I predict within the next 12 months Canada will go after his [Dr. Fred Kibenge’s] credibility; isn't that right?
MR. STEPHEN: I disagree. (Cohen Commission Dec. 19, 2011, Page 45)
Dr. Vallat I respectfully request that the OIE keep an eye on the situation in BC and support the opportunity for this research to be completed.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter,
Dr. Alexandra Morton