Dr. Gary Marty.
Photo UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
Dr. Gary Marty
Animal Health Centre
BC Ministry of Agriculture & Lands
CC: the public
October 31, 2011
Dear Dr. Marty,
I am a member of the general public living in Vancouver. Over the past couple years I have become increasingly involved in the conservation of wild salmon. But who I am is not very relevant.
On August 31, 2011, while you were on the witness stand at the Cohen Commission, you made a rather stunning comment: “CFIA [the Canadian Food Inspection Agency] actually discourages us to test for international foreign animal diseases. They prefer that they be called.”
Let me provide some context.
You were being cross-examined by Mr. Spiegelman, counsel for Canada, and the topic was a report that Dr. Alexandra Morton wrote to CFIA inquiring about some possible cases of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) that she had found in the Commission's disclosure database.
Those suspected cases of ISA, it appears, turned out to be false alarms since CFIA responded to Dr. Morton’s query on May 16, 2011 by stating that “All cases were evaluated as NO RISK for ISA”.
But then, Mr. Spiegelman asked you some follow-up questions about how you – as a fish pathologist for the Province of B.C. – dealt with the risk of ISA, and what was your level of confidence that B.C. was protected from that disease.
And you stated:
“Throughout the audit program, we test between 600 and 800 fish every year, since 2003, with a highly sensitive and specific PCR test, and those have been all negative. And so that gives me a great deal of confidence that we don't have ISAV in British Columbia.
So in several of these cases, it's not routine, when you have that level of confidence, it's not routine to always test for it when it's not known to occur, especially when you always have this active audit program going on. In fact, CFIA actually discourages us to test for international foreign animal diseases. They prefer that they be called.
So the fish health, because there weren't requirements from CFIA before January, we sort of have a grandfather-type system.”
Your comments, I take it, were intended to convey the reassuring message that the risk of ISA in British Columbia was so low that CFIA considered systematic testing to be somewhat redundant and unnecessary.
What a difference six weeks can make! Today, obviously, your comments convey a very different message – that the regulatory agencies in charge of protecting us against animal disease pandemics were at sleep at the wheel, sloppy, complacent, dismissive, negligent, or worse.
I have four specific questions for you and would appreciate a detailed and prompt response on your part, given that time is of the essence in this matter.
1. Does CFIA actually discourage veterinarians with the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture from conducting tests on foreign animal diseases such as ISA? Is a phone call really the preferred means of communication that this agency encourages, rather than rigorous and formal laboratory tests? How did/does that policy on the part of CFIA specifically impact your work as a veterinarian?
2. When you said that “when you have that level of confidence, it's not routine to always test for [ISA] when it's not known to occur”, did you mean to say that you did not test potential cases of ISA systematically, or did you mean to say that you did perform those tests systematically in spite of CFIA encouraging you not to do that?
3. I assume that your “level of confidence” has been significantly downgraded by recent developments and that you now consider the disease situation in B.C. to be anything but “routine”. (Unless you would want to take the position that the two separate ISA tests performed by the OIE laboratory in Prince Edward Island are both faulty – in which case I will definitely want to hear your comments about that as well.) How do you intend to change/upgrade your own protocols and procedures to respond to the unfolding ISA crisis, now that you are no longer in “high confidence” territory?
4. Your comment “So the fish health, because there weren't requirements from CFIA before January, we sort of have a grandfather-type system” is unclear to me. I would appreciate if could elaborate on that.
Please provide any relevant documentation and/or explanations to support your answers.
In case you would want to dismiss my questions as being yet another overreaction from an uninformed member of the public, I would like to conclude by quoting from a letter by Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, which was published in the Vancouver Sun this morning.
Her comments, I hope, will help convey to you the extreme level of urgency that the outside world places in this matter, as well as the potential dire consequences that inaction on the part of government – which you as a lead scientist represent – could involve:
“As the representative of Alaska fishermen who rely exclusively on the health of wild fish, I am appalled by the near-silence of the Canadian agencies responsible to protect them. I've reserved comment in hopes that they would send some signal to the public, and West Coast fishermen in particular, that Canada is proactively engaged with a "fish first" attitude.
On Friday Oct. 21 - more than a week after ISA was detected in B.C. salmon - Canadian officials issued a press release devoid of any sense of urgency. They announced they will run more tests, wait several weeks for results, and only then, if additional testing reveals ISA, stakeholders will be convened to, "identify and take appropriate next steps." Really?!”
Yours very truly,