Shooting the messenger: Lab stripped of credentials after finding infectious virus in BC salmon
After finding ISA virus in British Columbia salmon, Dr. Fred Kibenge's lab at Atlantic Veterinary College gets stripped of OIE certification by Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Burying bad news
When Dr. Fred Kibenge's lab at the University of PEI found that British Columbia's salmon were testing positive for a potentially devastating virus linked to salmon farming worldwide, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) responded by asking the Office of International Epizootics (OIE) to strip Kibenge's lab of its international certification.
“Dr. Kibenge had the temerity to announce positive test results and the result is his lab is being analyzed by you … I suggest to you that the federal government is going to try and take away his OIE certification as a punishment for this…I predict within the next 12 months Canada will go after his credibility; isn't that right?”
-Lawyer Greg McDade, questioning CFIA and DFO during the Cohen Commission hearings
Greg McDade was right, but how did he foresee this? Has McDade just been around the game long enough to know how these things work? When McDade predicted that the CFIA would do exactly this back in December 2011 during the Cohen Commission’s hearings on the ISA virus, no one took much notice, but in hindsight his prediction was dead on.
Several months after the Cohen Commission hearings, the CFIA would indeed order an audit of his lab. Then, in November 2012, the agency would request the OIE to strip Dr. Kibenge's lab's status as an international reference lab for the Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) virus.
On June 13, 2013, the OIE approved the request of the CFIA: Kibenge’s lab ceased to have OIE reference lab status, and the CFIA continues to say that BC is ISA-free.
“What they are doing here is essentially punishing me for having testified at the Cohen Commission and trying to suppress the findings that we’ve been finding. It’s an attack on my credibility. I just feel compelled to continue with my research work because there is nothing here that I can see that I’ve done wrong.” said Kibenge during an interview with the Globe and Mail.
Dr. Fred Kibenge, via 'Salmon Confidential'
The sequence of events is suspicious. Dr. Fred Kibenge has worked for years without controversy, testing for viruses for the aquaculture industry. No one questioned him or his lab until he reported finding positive test results for the ISA virus in BC salmon via samples submitted by Dr. Rick Routledge, a SFU professor working on sockeye salmon in Rivers Inlet and samples submitted by independent biologist Alexandra Morton.
Alexandra Morton, marine biologist. Via 'Salmon Confidential'
Suddenly Kibenge is under investigation, and eventually stripped of his reference lab status.
The reason Kibenge’s finding was so controversial is that it meant that the salmon farming industry was possibly responsible for importing a reportable virus from Europe into BC via Atlantic salmon egg imports.
ISA is the most lethal salmon virus known worldwide, and it is associated with industrial salmon farming. If the ISA virus is confirmed, it would mean that BC could be listed as positive for the ISA virus, which could mean restrictions on the trade of BC farmed salmon.
This would be very inconvenient for the industry, and for Canada-US trade relations.
Attacking Dr. Kibenge's credibility by stripping his international reference lab status does Canada a disservice. His is the only independent lab in the country that could test for the ISA virus with international certification. Is the next step to shut him down? The CFIA would then be in full control of whether or not the virus is officially reported in BC.
Other labs have found ISA in BC salmon
Kibenge is not alone in finding positive test results for ISAv in BC salmon. Several other labs have reported the virus.