Groups raise concerns over transparency and environmental risk
The company AquaBounty has announced that the Minister of Environment and Climate Change has approved the production of genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon at a site in Prince Edward Island (P.E.I). This will be the first factory in Canada to produce GM salmon, which is the world’s first GM food animal.
“Canada and P.E.I. will now be associated with the controversial and risky production of the world’s first GM fish,” said Sharon Labchuk of Earth Action P.E.I., “But Canadians were never consulted and the product is not even labelled in our grocery stores.”
AquaBounty says it will produce 250 metric tonnes of GM Atlantic salmon each year at the on-land factory it is setting up in the community of Rollo Bay, P.E.I., and that the first harvest will be in late 2020.
“This decision means more Canadians will be eating GM salmon without knowing,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).
The GM salmon is sold in Canada but there is no mandatory labelling of GM foods.
AquaBounty started selling GM salmon in Canada in 2017, produced at its small pilot plant in Panama. Canada had been the only country where GM salmon could be sold until the US government reversed an import ban in March 2019. AquaBounty can now sell GM salmon in the US and ship its GM salmon eggs from P.E.I. to a second commercial-scale factory that the company is setting up in the state of Indiana.
Although the P.E.I. production site is on land, environmental groups continue to raise concerns because of the serious impacts if any escape into the wild occurs.
“More GM salmon means more risk to wild Atlantic salmon. That is the science,” said Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre based in Nova Scotia, “This decision is the first step in a dangerous expansion of GM fish production. We need a national consultation on improving regulation before new GM animals are approved. We need democracy and transparency on this issue.”
The fish is genetically engineered with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and genetic material from ocean pout, to grow faster than other farmed salmon.
“How do we know what we’re eating?” asked Mary Boyd of the MacKillop Centre for Social Justice in P.E.I., “Health Canada should never have allowed a GM fish onto the market without labelling for consumers. We urgently need labels.”
Major retailers and many seafood companies have said they will not sell the GM salmon.
“Without labelling, retailers, restaurants and food companies should be clear that they are only selling non-GM salmon,” said Sharratt.