A genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon is approved for production and consumption in Canada, and for human consumption in the US. It is not being produced anywhere in the world.
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Write to your grocery chain and ask them not to stock any GM salmon – click here for grocery store contacts.
On May 19, 2016, Health Canada approved a genetically modified (GM, also called genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon for human consumption. This follows the 2013 decision by the Minister of the Environment to approve production in Canada, in land-based facilities.
What is the GM Salmon?
The company AquaBounty (now majority owned by the US biotechnology company Intrexon) has genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified or GM) Atlantic salmon. The company claims its “AquAdvantage” salmon grow to market-size twice as fast as other farmed salmon. That’s because the Atlantic salmon are engineered with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and genetic material from ocean pout (an eel-like creature).
AquaBounty has stated its plans to produce all the GM Atlantic salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island, ship them to Panama to grow out and then ship the processed fish to the US consumer market. This is only the first part of the company’s plan – they say they want to grow the fish in North America, Chile and other countries, in the future and the company already has approval to grow the fish in Canada.
The GM Salmon is from Canada
Prince Edward Island (PEI) Canada is now home to the world’s first GM fish and/or fish-egg production factory. In November 2013, Environment Canada announced its decision to allow production of the GM fish eggs and fish, anywhere in Canada (as long as they are raised in land-based facilities). The company has a research facility at Bay Fortune in Prince Edward Island which it is turning into a GM fish-egg factory and it is now proposing to expand to a second PEI facility. Canada was the first country to grant approval for the production of this GM fish.
No One Wants GM Fish
- The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Association and the International Salmon Farmer’s Association do not support the commercial production of GM fish.
- Grocery stores are now pledging not to use GM seafood.
The First GM Food Animal in the World?
The GM fish was in a race with the GM pig called “Enviropig” to become the first genetically engineered animal in our food system but the campaign led by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network stopped the GM pig in March 2012. The GM salmon would be the first GM food animal approved in the world.
Atlantic salmon are farmed in both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The escape of farmed fish from either marine net pens or hatcheries is serious, reoccurring pollution that threatens species. For example, mature escaped Atlantic salmon have been recorded in streams in B.C..
To try avoid a full review of the risks, AquaBounty is only seeking permission to raise the fish in a land-based facility in a “remote highland area” of Panama – even though it says the company also want to raise the fish in the US and other countries.
The company says that the GM salmon will all be sterile females, but admits they can only guarantee that 99%-95% of the salmon will be sterile.
GM salmon could put even more pressure on marine ecosystems. The fast-growing GM salmon could consume up to five times more food than other farmed salmon – because salmon are carnivorous they actually eat large amounts of wild-harvested fish like anchovies and sardines, caught just to feed them.
Any risk of GM Atlantic salmon escaping into the wild is unacceptable, especially when Atlantic salmon are already in danger of disappearing. Populations of wild Atlantic Salmon have declined for years, with numbers of Atlantic salmon in Canada dropping from approximately 18 million in 1975 to 625,000 in 2008, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). While Atlantic salmon can be found in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Iceland Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, France, Spain, and the United States, many traditional salmon runs are now reduced or extinct. In 2009, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listed all populations of wild Atlantic salmon as a “High Priority Candidate” in danger of disappearing from Canada. In years prior to this, Lake Ontario populations were listed as “Extirpated” and Inner Bay of Fundy populations as “Endangered”. Commercial fisheries for wild Atlantic salmon were closed in 1985. Recreational fisheries, First Nations and Labrador Resident fisheries of large Atlantic salmon are allowed but restricted in Canada.
Atlantic salmon are farmed in Atlantic Canada but also in the Pacific Ocean, primarily in Chile and along the West Coast of Canada and the U.S..
Health Risks and Bad Science
Critics have long warned that the process of genetic engineering itself could possibly result in increased allergenicity and AquaBounty’s own data point to this potential in their GM salmon.
Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union US, says, “The FDA is relying on woefully inadequate data. There is sloppy science, small sample sizes, and questionable practices.” For example, the company used insensitive tests to try and measure the levels of growth hormone in the GM salmon and the levels of IGF-1, a hormone linked to a number of cancers.
Unlike GM crops which are approved for environmental release by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, GM animals are assessed for environmental safety by Environment Canada. In the case of GM fish, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) abandoned its work to develop regulations specific to GE fish (Transgenic Aquatic Organisms) and, instead, passed the task to Environment Canada under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. For more information see CBAN’s GMO Inquiry report “Are GM Crops and Foods Well Regulated?”
The company says it will produce GM fish eggs in Prince Edward Island (PEI) and ship them to Panama for grow-out and processing but the company has approval to produce the fish in PEI and is expanding its PEI operations. AquaBounty is also conducting “field trials” in Brazil and Argentina (all the GM fish eggs come from PEI).
December 2016: The December 2016 Report “Genetically Modified Animals for Human Consumption” of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, failed to recommend labelling for GM foods, though the Committee did recommend more transparency in the regulation of GM animals.
Canadian court challenge concludes with a ruling in favour of the Minister of Environment.
October 27, 2016: Health Canada announced food safety approval of the GM salmon on May 19 2016 and Canada’s Minister of the Environment approved the commercial production of genetically modified Atlantic salmon eggs and fish in late 2013. This latter environmental approval was challenged in court by Ecology Action Centre (NS) and Living Oceans Society (BC), represented in court by Ecojustice lawyers.
- Read the concluding statement from the environmental groups: Statement re: Federal Court of Appeal ruling on approval of GM salmon production
March 31, 2016: Ecology Action Centre (EAC) in Nova Scotia has joined with US groups to sue the US Food and Drug Administration for approving genetically modified (GM) salmon. This is only one step that EAC and other groups are taking to prevent this threat to Canada’s wild Atlantic salmon. EAC and Living Oceans Society (BC) continue their challenge of Canada’s decision to allow production of GM salmon in PEI.
January 2016: The US government approved the fish for eating on November 19, 2015 – however there is a temporary import ban on the GM fish until labelling questions are decided.
June 2015: The GM “fast-growing” salmon is more susceptible to disease, may not actually grow any faster, and it looks like the genetic modification is causing inconsistent growth rates. Find out more from Food & Water Watch US.
Who is AquaBounty?
A majority share in AquaBounty has now been bought by the synthetic biology company Intrexon, which has also since acquired the company Okanagan Specialty Fruits that developed the GM “non-browning” apple.
In 2004, AquaBounty Farms was renamed as AquaBounty Technologies Inc. Corporate Headquarters are based in Waltham, Massachusetts, while the AquaBounty Pacific subsidiary is located in San Diego, California. AquaBounty has a Canadian subsidiary based in St John’s, Newfoundland. AquaBounty maintains a research and development facility in Bay Fortune, Prince Edward Island.
The original research conducted on antifreeze (promoter) proteins was patented by two University professors, Dr. Garth Fletcher from Memorial University Newfoundland and Dr. Choy Hew of the University of Toronto, as their “invention”. Dr. Fletcher became Co-Founder, Director, and Corporate Vice President of A/F Protein Inc., and President of A/F Protein Canada Inc – he is still Professor Emeritus at the Ocean Sciences Centre of Memorial University of Newfoundland.
In January 2010, the federal government granted public funds to AquaBounty for research that can be applied to their GE salmon. The company was given $2.9 million from the Atlantic Innovation Fund to “improve the culture of reproductively sterile Atlantic salmon” with the objective of “the safe commercial launch of triploid salmon with Atlantic Canada identified as the source for associated commercial benefits, and worldwide distribution of the product.
AquaBounty Fined in Panama
Press Release: October 28, 2014 – Panama Fines GM Fish Company with Canadian Operation for Violating Environmental Regulations The Government of Panama has fined the company AquaBounty for breaching numerous national environmental laws during its ongoing research and development of a genetically modified (GM) Atlantic salmon. The GM fish eggs were shipped from Canada, provoking fears of environmental contamination in both countries.
- Press Release – November 21, 2013: Complaint in Panama Raises Concerns About GM fish Research in Canada
- Letter to the Minister of the Environment from CBAN, November 21, 2013
- Letter of Support to CIAM’s administrative filing in Panama, alleging violations of environmental regulations. Signed by CBAN, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, GeneWatch UK, Food & Water Europe.
December 2013: The largest producer of farmed salmon, Marine Harvest has stated their position against the GM salmon: “Salmon is established as a healthy, safe and tasty product. A possible introduction of GM salmon is controversial and might weaken the salmon brand. Marine Harvest does not support the introduction of GM salmon. If the GM salmon is to be approved for consumption, Marine Harvest asks for it to be specifically labelled,”- Kristine Gramstad, Global Director Communications, Marine Harvest.
November 2013: CBAN sent letters to the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Health to request an answer to the question: Is Environment Canada and/or Health Canada reviewing a GE fish for approval? Here is the response from Health Canada.
- Click here to read the letter to the Minister of the Environment
- Click here to read the letter to the Minister of Health
October 2013: CBAN has submitted a “petition” (a detailed series of questions that require departmental response) to the Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development in the Office of the Auditor General, asking questions about the regulation of the GM fish. This petition was prepared with the assistance of Ecojustice, with particular thanks to Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic intern, Madeleine Hayes. Government departments are expected to respond by January 2014. Click here to read the document submitted to the Auditor General.
December 16, 2011: ISA virus confirmed in AquaBounty’s genetically-engineered salmon: A 2009 memo from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) entered into evidence at Canada’s federal Cohen Inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye Thursday reveals that salmon at the AquaBounty facility in Price Edward Island have tested positive for the Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) virus. Click here to watch Catherine Stewart of Living Oceans Society talk about what this means.
House of Commons Motion: October 2011 – Mr. Donnelly (New Westminster—Coquitlam) — That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately: (a) provide greater regulatory clarity by identifying which government departments are responsible for the regulation of genetically modified salmon and other transgenic aquatic organisms; (b) prevent the introduction into the Canadian food system of genetically modified salmon destined for human consumption until further scientific studies are concluded by the relevant departments to determine the impact of genetically modified salmon on human health and on the health of marine species, ecosystems and habitats; and (c) direct the departments responsible for the regulation of genetically modified salmon to establish a practice of notifying the Canadian public of all requests and approvals and of any information and findings regarding genetically modified salmon and salmon eggs.
October 11, 2011 – Press Release : U.S. Rubber-Stamp of GM Fish Imminent? U.S. approval would trigger corporate plans to produce genetically modified salmon eggs in Canada, but Environment Canada remains silent
January 15, 2011: PEI groups met with Premier Ghiz and the PEI Minister of the Environment and secured a pledge that the Premier will seek information from Environment Canada. Environment Canada is currently refusing to disclose any information about a possible risk assessment to allow the production of GE salmon eggs on PEI. Read the story: PEI groups meet with Premier and secure pledge on GE fish.
December 6, 2010 Press Release: Groups Oppose Genetically Engineered Salmon: Demand Immediate Disclosure from Environment Canada
Sixty fisheries and oceans conservation, environmental and social justice groups revealed today that Environment Canada refuses to confirm or deny if the department has already started a secret 120-day risk assessment to approve genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified or GM) salmon egg production on Prince Edward Island. The groups today also released a joint statement of “categorical objection” to the raising of GE fish and fish eggs. Click here to see the statement opposing GE fish and the list of 60 groups signed so far.
November 22, 2010: Press release: PEI Groups request Premier Ghiz to press Environment Canada for disclosure on GE Salmon
October 27, 2010: Newly Disclosed Government Documents Conclude GE Salmon Pose A Critical Threat To Marine Environments – Expert fisheries agencies prohibit growing engineered salmon in open-water net pens under the Endangered Species Act.
September 21, 2010 – Press Statement: Groups in the US and Canada urge the FDA to heed yesterday’s warnings by scientists regarding the safety of genetically engineered salmon and reject company’s request for approval — Yesterday the FDA’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee finished two days of public hearings in Maryland on the safety of genetically engineered (GE) salmon: “The committee could not avoid pointing to serious problems with the science. The FDA cannot approve the GE salmon after the committee has raised so many questions about its safety,” said Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. Many committee members raised serious concerns about the safety of the GE salmon and questions about the quality of the data used by the FDA to come to its initial conclusion that the GE fish is safe. The FDA will now consider the concerns raised by the committee before making a final decision to approve or reject the GE fish, or call for more studies. The FDA has agreed to a public comment period on an environmental assessment.
September 20, 2010 – Press Release: Critics slam “sloppy science” on GE Fish at FDA hearings: FDA overlooked evidence of allergy potential and accepted deficient data say groups
September 16, 2010 – Press Release: PEI Groups Denounce Plans for Local GE Salmon Production: PEI representative to attend US hearings on GE fish safety
September 8, 2010 – Press Release:As U.S. Decision on GE Fish Nears Final Stage, Company Reveals Plan to Produce GE Salmon Eggs in Canada
September 3, 2010: FDA releases documents for the first time prior to public meetings September 19-21:
- Environmental Assessment for “AquAdvantage” Salmon
- Briefing Packet: Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee
August 27, 2010 – Joint Press Statement: Coalition Demands FDA Deny Approval of Controversial GE Fish: FDA Considers Approval of GE Salmon–the First GE Food Animal–Yet Fails to Inform the Public of Environmental and Economic Risks.