In this section of the film (around the 53-minute mark) we witness a folksy Alexandra Morton cutting samples up on the ground of a parking lot outside a grocery store.
Apparently she and her people have been going into grocery stores that sell farmed salmon, purchasing the fish and then bringing them into a parking lot where they sit on the ground and cut the samples up and put them into containers to send for testing.
Stirling University in Scotland is one of the most respected international universities with an Institute of Aquaculture. They have clear procedures for how to collect samples for scientific testing, and how to pack those samples.
They don’t address concerns about cutting samples up on the pavement of a parking lot, likely because this would not occur to them that someone would think this is a responsible way to approach collection and preparation of samples for testing.
Virology Samples for Cell Culture Testing
- Prior notification before sending samples since cell cultures required to be prepared in advance. Usually 2-3 days notice is sufficient.
- Samples should only be taken from recently killed or freshly moribund fish.
- For individual or pooled samples (excluding fry and fingerling fish pools) the total weight from all the organs should be around 1 – 2 g of tissue.
- Samples should be taken as quickly as possible using clean scalpel blades between different batches or pools. They should be kept cool (2-8°C) and transported immediately to the Virology Laboratory (See packaging and transport guidelines).
- The samples must not be frozen.
Let’s see. Sampling in a parking lot. Sampling fish that have been handled by an unknown number of people since they were harvested. Sampling fish that have no internal organs to test. We’re gonna get some great results with these!
Immediately after assembling these samples Morton claims that three of the samples have tested positive for ISA. There are no other details provided – not the name of the laboratory, and no mention that the early “presumptive positives” were later proven to be inaccurate.
Morton makes no reference to the fact that all preliminary screening tests for ISA virus in BC were shown to be false positives in the essential follow-up tests. DFO’s lab has successfully identified ISA virus in salmon farms in Atlantic Canada so clearly if the virus is there, they have the capacity to find it. Thousands of high-quality samples of wild and farmed salmon in BC (samples which meet the criteria defined above) have all tested negative for the ISA virus.
The film then shifts to a long list of concerns about food – and how mothers especially “should buy local stuff – go look at it.” “We’re guinea pigs in a big experiment.” Oooh, it’s all very scary but short on facts.
Is there a real doctor in the house?
Morton makes a hilariously ridiculous and broad claim about doctors and nurses telling her that disease in farm animals is one of the biggest source of epidemics in humans.
She goes on to talk broadly about people dying of “bacterial” outbreaks: listeria, e.coli, hoof and mouth disease, mad cow disease.
It’s true that people can get diseases and bacterial infections from animals, and some deadly viruses have infected humans via livestock. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic may have come from birds and pigs. But it spread because there was a World War going on at the time. The unprecedented, massive movements of soldiers and people during the war undoubtedly contributed to the severity of the pandemic.
In more recent times, the deadliest outbreaks have come from vegetables. In the last 40 years, nearly half of the food-borne illness outbreaks in the United States were caused by some kind of vegetable, fruit or nut. The worst food-borne illness outbreaks in North America, which killed dozens of people, were because of cantaloupes and spinach.
If Morton wants to make broad, scary claims about food safety, she should include this sort of contextual information.
Canteloupes have killed more people than mad cow disease
Her throw-away comments also show that once again, Alexandra Morton does not know what she’s talking about when she tries to scare people with hoof-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease.
Foot-and-Mouth Disease (hoof-and-mouth) very rarely ever affects humans. It is not dangerous, unless you are a cow.
It is very different from Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, a common childhood illness. The animal disease and the human disease are completely unrelated.
As for mad cow disease, only three people in the United States have ever died in connection with it.
In today’s world of cities isolated from farmland, and big farms following strict food-safety policy, diseases from livestock are rare. Most food-borne illnesses we have to deal with are because of human error.
One more thing, which Morton conveniently ignores in her scary tale, is that fish are cold blooded animals. Humans are warm-blooded animals. Viruses have evolved very differently in cold-blooded and warm-blooded animals. You have more chance of dying from eating cantaloupes than you do from a fish virus suddenly mutating inside of you.
To see why this is dumb, let’s assume for a moment that the fish in the following pictures had the boogety-boo ISA virus particles in its flesh, the most virulent fish virus out there.
How likely is it that even one viral particle will survive this process and somehow make a quantum leap of evolution to suddenly affect human beings? That would be like dinosaurs evolving into birds in one generation.
More conspiracy theories
The film devolves into another conspiracy theory with a look at Bill 37 and the Animal Health Act, claiming they will make it a crime to report farm animal diseases. Vincent Gogolek from the provincial government states that the position of the industry and the government was almost identical –but he doesn’t say what part of the industry!
Morton leaves a perception that the salmon farming industry and government are in collusion about this. When we checked the BCSFA website though we found this update dated May 31, 2012:
Update: According to news this morning (May 31, 2012), the Bill has been pulled for further review. We leave this update here for clarification in future discussions.
There has been a significant amount of misinformation circulated about the proposed provincial Bill 37 and the potential impact it may have on reporting of animal health events in British Columbia.
Since many of these comments refer to salmon aquaculture, BC’s salmon farmers would like to set the record straight. Since December 2010, BC’s aquaculture industry has been under the regulatory control of the federal government. As such, sampling and auditing of fish health is carried out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and federal staff. Some fish health findings are federally reportable through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This proposed provincial regulation would not directly affect salmon farm reporting.
Let me make this clear: this Bill would have never affected salmon farm reporting. But it would affect chicken, beef, turkey, pig and other animal farmers. Morton did not contact them for comment.
The web posting from BCSFA goes on to say:
BC’s salmon farmers work hard to share information about fish health with the public over and above what is required by government. The most recent proactive communications regarding a finding of Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis (IHN) is an example of our farmers being upfront about challenges when they genuinely exist. Our farmers have shared information about findings — both confirmed and suspected — locations, actions and potential impacts each step of the way.
Our member companies understand the challenges with such open reporting about animal and farm health: providing significant amounts of information does create the risk that it will be misrepresented or used by those opposed to salmon farming to create undue fear. This is a threat we see regularly — and it is a significant challenge to overcome.
This sounds familiar – if you have watched this video in its entirety to this point you might well be concerned about this. Wonder if that has factored into industry’s decision about what information to provide?
However, we understand the public’s interest overall, and remain committed to sharing information and context to help alleviate concerns. Once again: fish health reporting will continue as it does today through the DFO and federal government offices.
More questions? Contact us at the BC Salmon Farmers Association and we’d be happy to help answer them.
Hmm, not really much there, is there? Salmon farmers are providing information and this Bill doesn’t apply to them.
In closing, here is a picture of what happens to things in your stomach.