This is the kind of stuff that happens on a farm. It's about eradicating and killing off animals, and the losses are devastating.

So says Nelle Halse, not a spokesperson for landfarming, but for the New Brunswick Salmon Growers Association, a group of sea-farmers. She is describing infectious salmon anemia (ISA), what has come to be called the foot and mouth disease of the sea.

It is a member of the influenza family, a virus not harmful to humans, but in salmon causes internal bleeding and destroys organs. Infections in fish farming operations began in Norway 17 years ago, then Scotland. Now, it has spread to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Maine.

As with foot and mouth, the farmers' reaction is to kill: in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, 4.5 million salmon, at a cost of $70 million have been killed in an attempt to control the outbreak.

It's really a disease that has to be managed; it may never go away, says Halse. So, we resign ourselves to another cost of doing business. We won't see the pyres that we now associate with the British countryside in the wake of the outbreak on land, but is there another consequence.

If this were only a disease of, and in, factory-farming, maybe we could be afford to be complaisant--it is a business after all, and there are risks. So, what's the problem?

Fred Whoriskey is vice-president of research for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a wild-salmon conservation group based in St. Andrews, New Brunswick and has been working to restock the Magaguadavic River in southern New Brunswick. He has detected ISA in escaped farm fish and the wild stock he collected to restock the river. Not killing the wild fish immediately, he bred them to see if the virus was "vertically transmitted" to their offspring; it is.

As usual, the science has been challenged: the result could only be a false positive--or it could be correct.

ISA has also been detected in wild fish in Scotland and the Shetland Islands, Chile, and the Faroe Islands near Denmark.

However, in both Canada and the United States, wild salmon are endangered species. The salmon in eight Maine rivers have been added to the federal endangered species list.

Farm fish regularly escape. 100,000 fish escaped last December from a site in Machais Bay in Maine during a storm. The outbreak in Maine is in Cobscook Bay; the Dennys river, one of those whose species were added to the endangered list, flows into Cobscook Bay. And where natural stocks are depleted, cultivated stocks can infect, or even replace them.

This is the problem, as environmentalists have always, Cassandra-like, pointed out.

Today, the crisis has only been caused by two elements:

  1. the outbreak of disease that factory-farming invariably cultivates,
  2. the inevitable escape of farm stock, and its interaction with dwindling wild species.

In the almost present, when genetically modified fish are factory-farmed, who will accept the assurances of their advocates that there is no risk?