Caution needed to prevent accidental GM salmon production in ocean net-pens
Thursday, September 12, 2019. Halifax. Ahead of the Canadian Seafood Show, September 25-26 in Montreal, Canadian and U.S. environmental groups (1) are calling on the aquaculture and seafood industry to boycott AquaBounty’s Atlantic salmon eggs in order to eliminate the risk of any accidental mixing with the company’s genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) Atlantic salmon eggs produced at the same facility in Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), Canada. The groups are concerned that human error could lead to the inadvertent production of GM salmon in open net-pens and the resultant environmental risk.
“Companies buying salmon eggs for fish farming should avoid AquaBounty’s products from Prince Edward Island in order to prevent any mix-up with genetically modified salmon eggs,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).
The GM Atlantic salmon is the world’s first GM food animal. The company AquaBounty has finished construction of a land-based GM fish factory at Rollo Bay, P.E.I. where it now proposes to manufacture and sell both GM Atlantic salmon eggs and non-GM eggs.
“We’re surprised that the company now also plans to ship out non-GM salmon eggs from the same facility where it produces GM salmon eggs,” said Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia. “This adds a new level of risk to the P.E.I. production.”
In April 2019, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada approved production of the GM salmon at the land-based Rollo Bay facility.
A 2019 risk assessment from Fisheries and Oceans Canada recommended a number of conditions to decrease the potential for release of GM salmon into the environment due to human error, including producing the GM and non-GM eggs in separate buildings or areas, shipping the GM and non-GM eggs at separate times, and labelling inside and outside shipping boxes. (2) The conditions are not requirements.
“The worst-case scenario is a mistake where GM fish eggs are unknowingly sent to a company for growing in ocean net-pens. Unintended production in ocean farms would significantly increase the risk of GM salmon escaping into the wild, putting wild salmon at risk,” said Sharratt. “Human error is a predictable cause of accidental contamination.”
CBAN’s recent report “GM Contamination in Canada: The failure of living modified organisms – incidents and impacts” documents the role of human error in two previous contamination events with experimental GM animals (pigs) in Canada. (3)
“AquaBounty’s P.E.I. facility, the first GM fish factory in the world, is an accident waiting to happen,” said Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada. “Wild salmon is already under enormous pressure from development and climate change. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a mishap and GM salmon escape and further stress wild salmon.”
The P.E.I. facility is the first GM fish factory in the world along with a facility being set up at the same time in Indiana, US. The company says the first GM salmon from these sites will be ready for sale in 2020.
“The aquaculture industry should be extremely cautious in dealing with a company that’s manufacturing and selling both GM and non-GM eggs from the same facility. The risk is clear and should be avoided by fish farming companies,” said Thibault Rehn of the Quebec network Vigilance OGM (GMO Watch).
For more information: Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 902 209 4906; Mark Butler, Ecology Action Centre, 902 266 5401; Beatrice Olivastri, Friends of the Earth Canada, 613 724 8690; Thibault Rehn, Vigilance OGM, 514 582 1674.
(1) The groups voicing concerns are the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Council of Canadians – PEI Chapter, Earth Action PEI, Ecology Action Centre (Nova Scotia), Friends of the Earth Canada, Friends of the Earth U.S., The MacKillop Centre for Social Justice (PEI), and Vigilance OGM.
(2) Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat. “Environmental and Indirect Human Health Risk Assessments for the Manufacture and Grow-out of EO-1α Salmon, including the AquAdvantage® Salmon, at a Land-Based and Contained Facility near Rollo Bay, PEI.”, Science Advisory Report 2019/014. 2019. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/Publications/SAR-AS/2019/2019_014-eng.pdf
(3) Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, GM Contamination in Canada: The failure to contain living modified organisms, 2019, www.cban.ca/ContaminationReport2019