This is the first time any government has given the go-ahead to commercial scale production involving a GM food animal.
The US firm that is producing the GM salmon eggs, AquaBounty, stands accused of breaching environmental regulations in Panama, where it ships the salmon eggs for further development.
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Canada approves production of GM salmon eggs on commercial scale
The Guardian (UK), 25 Nov 2013
*US biotechnology firm AquaBounty given green light
*FDA expected to follow with decision on sale of GM salmon
Canada has given the go-ahead to commercial production of genetically modified salmon eggs, bringing the world's first GM food animal closer to supermarkets and dinner tables.
In a decision buried in routine business in the Canada Gazette, Environment Canada said it had granted a US biotechnology firm, AquaBounty Technologies Inc, permission to export up to 100,000 GM fish eggs a year from a hatchery in Prince Edward Island to a site high in the Panamanian rainforest.
The decision marked the first time any government had given the go-ahead to commercial scale production involving a GM food animal.
The move clears the way for AquaBounty to scale up production of the salmon at its sites in PEI and Panama in anticipation of eventual approval by American authorities.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to render a decision in the near future on the sale of GM salmon, and in due course some 30 other species of GM fish currently under development, campaigners and industry figures said.
The Canadian government said in its decision that the GM fish presented a high risk to Atlantic salmon, in the event of an escape, and a spokesman was adamant there would be no immediate sale or consumption of GM salmon eggs in Canada.
“There are strict measures in place to prevent the release of this fish into the food chain,” an Environment Canada spokesman said by email. “In Canada, no genetically modified fish or eggs are currently approved for the purposes of human consumption.”
But the limited approval still represents a big win for AquaBounty which has fought for 20 years to bring GM salmon to American dinner tables.“This is a significant milestone in our efforts to make AquAdvantage® salmon available for commercial production,” Ron Stotish, the company's chief executive, said in a statement.
AquaBounty has been raising GM salmon for several years on an experimental basis, growing fish eggs at a lab in PEI and then flying them to a ramshackle test site at a secretive inland location in the Panamanian rainforest, where they were grown to full size, and then ultimately destroyed.
The GM fish splices growth genes from a Chinook salmon and a seal eel onto an Atlantic salmon – which AquaBounty claims enables the altered animal to grow twice as fast as a regular fish.
Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network said last week's decision made it easier for the FDA to contemplate approval, so clearing a potential obstacle in AquaBounty moving towards full-scale commercial production.
“This is one concrete step closer to the reality of GM fish on our plates, and unfortunately it is a really dramatic step,” she said. “It's a global first, and it has a significant global potential impact for our environment. It starts a chain of decisions that could be just disastrous for our aquatic ecosystems.”
The move by the Canadian authorities follows a run of setbacks for AquaBounty – and growing scrutiny of its operations from campaign groups.
An environmental group in Panama last week wrote to the authorities with concerns that the AquaBounty site was operating without the necessary permits and inspections.
The Panamanian test site has had a history of mishaps. In 2008, a storm destroyed part of the facility, according to a filing to the FDA. In 2010, an entire batch of fingerlings died in transit, according to Panamanian officials.
All the while, AquaBounty fought to navigate the US regulatory process and to stay afloat. The company has run through more than $60m waiting for approval.
The company has also fought to win over the public to the idea of GM fish. Within the last year, supermarket chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joes, have said they will not stock GM salmon.
AquaBounty must still win approval to raise the fish on commercial scale from the authorities in Panama – and the site so far consists of just a few tanks at the end of an unpaved road.
The company will also have to apply anew to the Canadian government if it wants to raise the fish commercially at any other site. AquaBounty must still obtain approval from the FDA before it can begin to try to bring the fish to market in America.
But Stotish said in the statement the company planned to go into commercial production once those other approvals are in place.