Federal Scientists Fail to Disclose Industry Connections in Salmon Farm Virus Studies, Documents Reveal

Science Journal Calls for Corrections

VANCOUVER–Government documents (see backgrounder) reveal the science journal Frontiers in Physiology is requiring scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to correct a recently-published study on a controversial fish farm virus because they did not disclose the research was funded by the salmon farm industry. The omission is a violation of the journal’s Editorial Policies and Publication Ethics. A second study published in the journal Scientific Reports, by the same federal scientists on the same virus also did not disclose industry connections. The Scientific Reports publishing team is currently investigating the DFO research and its connections to the salmon farming industry.

Most scientific journals require all potential conflicts of interest to be stated explicitly, due to their potential to impart bias on the research conclusions.

Both studies received significant news attention in March 2019, likely due to a concerted federal government communications plan, documents reveal (see backgrounder). The news attention downplayed the risk of the salmon farming virus to wild salmon stocks. Industry connections were not disclosed in the government’s communications. Previous industry-independent research has shown the virus (known as piscine reovirus, or PRV) as a serious risk to wild salmon.

The study published in Frontiers in Physiology, did not disclose that salmon farming industry funding was funnelled through a federal program (known as ACRDP). An email from the journal’s editorial office to a DFO author states they would like this to be corrected, “in the interest of transparency.”

The other study published in Scientific Reports appears to have received some type of support from a $1.5 million salmon farming industry research program (known as the Marine Environmental Research program or MERP), revealed in a government document (see backgrounder).

The complaints to the journal were made by Stan Proboszcz, Science Advisor, Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

“It’s disturbing to see federal scientists omitting industry connections in their research, thus undermining the objectivity and credibility of their science,” said Proboszcz. “It creates the perception that DFO scientists may be using a federal government research program (ACRDP) to launder industry money, in an attempt to make their research appear objective and independent of industry.”

The Frontiers in Physiology study was also co-authored by University of British Columbia researchers. The UBC Conflict of Interest Administrator stated they would review the situation promptly.

 

Media inquiries: Stan Proboszcz, Science Advisor, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, 604-314-2713, proboszcz@watershed-watch.org

ATIP Government Documents and Other Related Files

 

DFO PRV study published in Frontiers in Physiology: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.00114/full

Complaint letter to Frontiers in Physiology detailing undisclosed potential conflict of interest: https://watershed-watch.org/CoI_concerns_with_Zhang_et_al_2019.pdf

Government email between Frontiers in Physiology and DFO scientist calling for study correction about undisclosed potential conflict of interest: https://watershed-watch.org/A-2019-00127-DSP-FINAL.pdf

Email from University of British Columbia’s Conflict of Interest Administrator stating they will review this potential conflict of interest regarding the UBC authors of the study: https://watershed-watch.org/Email_to_UBC_re_Zhang_et_al_2019.pdf

DFO study published in Scientific Reports: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40025-7

Complaint letter to Scientific Reports detailing undisclosed potential competing interest (a term used by this journal, similar to a conflict of interest) and a federal government document (in appendix of letter) detailing potential industry support from the BC Salmon Farmers Association and MERP funding program for the DFO PRV study: https://watershed-watch.org/Scientific_Reports_Polinski_et_al_2019.pdf

An email exchange between the two DFO scientists about the synchronized media responses to the publication of both PRV studies downplaying the risk of the virus: https://watershed-watch.org/emails_between_DFO_scientist_re_media_responses_on_studies.pdf

 

Media Inquiries

For inquiries or to join our media list, please contact:


Anna Kemp
Communications Manager

anna@watershedwatch.ca 250-884-4072