Share this:

GE Fish

Market Status: GM Food Alert Guide graphic

Some genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon was sold into Canada in June 2017. This is the world’s first sale of GM fish for human consumption and has occurred without GM product labelling for Canadian consumers. On August 4, 2017, the GM fish company AquaBounty revealed that it sold approximately 4.5 tonnes of GM Atlantic salmon fillets for the first time in Canada. It did not disclose where the GM fish was sold.

CBAN Consumer Guide: How to Avoid Eating GM Salmon

Take Action

October 2018: Send an instant letter to the Minister of the Environment to demand a full environmental risk assessment of GM salmon. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change could approve the production of GM Atlantic salmon in Canada before the end of November. The government is rushing a “public engagement initiative” on the GM fish that ends on October 12. Environment and Climate Change Canada is asking for scientific information and test data on the environmental risks of the GM salmon – but has not provided any information about the proposal from the GM fish company AquaBounty, including where it wants to produce the GM fish.

Updates

October 23, 2018 – Press Release: P.E.I. Government Loans Additional $2 Million to Build GM Fish Factory The Government of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) has provided a new $2 million loan to the company AquaBounty, to help it finish construction of the world’s first genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) fish factory.

September 2018: Is the GM salmon in your sushi? AquaBounty’s CEO told investors that a Canadian buyer is using the GM Atlantic salmon for a “high-end sashimi line” (a type of sushi). But Quebec sushi restaurant chain Aki Sushi says they refuse to buy it.

GM Fish Protest

PEI residents protest the GM salmon, Charlottetown, September 2018. Credit: The Guardian PEI

September 2018: PEI residents took to the streets in early September outside an international aquaculture conference, to tell companies not to use the GM salmon. AquaBounty was a sponsor of the conference, held in Charlottetown. “Our message to (scientists at the symposium) is do not give any credence to AquaBounty and what it tries to tell you during the next four or five days. Islanders are opposed to having the genetically engineered salmon here in Prince Edward Island,” said Leo Broderick of the Council of Canadians PEI Chapter.

 

New CBAN article – September 2018: The Canadian government funded the development of the GM salmon with over $8 million in government grants and loans, and will receive 10% royalties from sales of a technology relating to the GM fish. The royalties are part of a 2009 $2.8 million-dollar grant agreement between the company AquaBounty and the federal government Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Read more in the CBAN article “A fishy return on public investment” in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alterantives’ Monitor magazine, Sept/Oct 2018.

GM Salmon Sales in Canada

AquaBounty revealed on August 4 2017, in its quarterly financial results, that it had sold approximately 4.5 metric tonnes of genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon fillets in Canada some time between April and July. This is the world’s first sale of GM fish for human consumption and occurred without GM product labelling for Canadian consumers. The company did not disclose where the GM salmon were sold.

Since that time, CBAN, Ecology Action Centre and Vigilance OGM identified a shipment of salmon to Quebec that closely matches AquaBounty’s description of the GM salmon sale and later confirmed that the GM salmon did in fact go to Quebec in five shipments in June 2017. CBAN has also secured statements from the top grocery retailers in Canada clarifying that they are not selling the GM salmon, and have no plans to sell it.

Tracking GM Salmon Sales

CBAN has secured statements from the top grocery retailers in Canada clarifying that they are not selling the GM salmon, and have no plans to sell it.

Tracking GM Salmon Shipments

Investigations by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Ecology Action Centre and the Quebec network Vigilance OGM revealed that the world’s first sale of genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) salmon could have gone exclusively into the Quebec market. New information uncovered by Vigilance OGM confirms this. We now know the exact dates that the GM salmon arrived in Quebec. We have also confirmed that some was sold in grocery stores but that most of the GM salmon was sold for food service which means it could have been sold in restaurants or at institutions like universities and hospitals that rely on catering companies. Click here to read the new information about GM salmon shipments in 2017.

GM Salmon Production in Canada

The genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon is not yet being produced in Canada. The company AquaBounty produces GM salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island, Canada for shipment to Panama for grow-out.

October 2, 2017. International Bulletin – GM Salmon: Update on the status of GM salmon production in Prince Edward Island, Canada

The federal government has confirmed that the GM fish company AquaBounty does not yet have permission to grow GM salmon at its new facility in Rollo Bay PEI (June 26, 2017). In June, the PEI government gave the company Aquabounty permission to construct the world’s first GM fish factory at Rollo Bay but the federal government has confirmed that the company does not have approval to grow the fish at that site.

PEI approves construction of world’s first GM fish plant – June 19, 2017: The Government of Prince Edward Island approved AquaBounty’s “amended” proposal to build the world’s first GM fish factory at Rollo Bay, PEI. Just one year earlier, when the company got approval to buy the facility, the company stated that it would not be used for producing any GM fish. The company now says it plans to grow 250 metric tonnes of GM fish in PEI every year. Read the press release.

Environmental groups ask for new scientific assessment: On June 6, 2017 CBAN and 11 other Canadian environmental organizations called on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Minister of Health, and Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, to carry out a toxicity assessment on the company Aquabounty’s proposal to produce GM fish at its facility at Rollo Bay, PEI. Experts originally conducted a risk assessment for Aquabounty’s proposal to manufacture GM salmon eggs at Bay Fortune PEI. However, this study did not include an assessment of the risks posed by their current proposal to commercially produce GM fish. Read the joint letter from 12 environmental organizations. June 6, 2017

PEI groups ask for public hearings: On May 11, 2017, groups in PEI called on the Premier to hold public hearings on the impacts of GM fish production. Click here to see the letter and press release.

AquaBounty shifts plans to PEI for GM fish production: April 2017 – AquaBounty is seeking permission to construct the world’s first GM fish factory in Canada. AquaBounty stated its specific plans (in various documents to the US and Canadian governments) to produce GM Atlantic salmon eggs in PEI, ship them to Panama to grow out and process for export. However, the Government of Panama has not yet approved commercial production of the GM salmon and the company is now asking the PEI government to permit construction of new buildings to grow 250 metric tons of GM Atlantic salmon every year.

In their April 2017 Environmental Impact Statement, the company is asking the PEI government to give it permission to renovate its recently acquired site at Rollo Bay including to build two new structures (3,700 m2 (40,000 ft2) each) to grow the world’s first genetically modified food animal, the genetically modified Atlantic salmon. The company says the site would have the capacity to produce 250 metric tons of GM Atlantic salmon per year.

On May 19 2016, AquaBounty’s Environmental Impact Statement said, “The proposed facility at Rollo Bay West will have no GMO salmon.“ However on April 12, 2017, AquaBounty’s Amended Environmental Impact Statement says, “AquaBounty will rear AquAdvantage Salmon, a sterile genetically modified salmon, from eyed egg to market size within the production facility.”

Background

On May 19, 2016, Health Canada approved the genetically modified (GM, also called genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon for human consumption. This followed a 2013 decision by the Minister of the Environment to approve commercial production in Canada, in land-based facilities.

Canada is, so far, the only country in the world to grant approval to produce this GM fish and the company AquaBounty is now proposing to build the world’s first GM fish factory in Prince Edward Island.

The company AquaBounty (now majority owned by the US biotechnology company Intrexon) has genetically engineered Atlantic salmon to grow faster. The salmon has a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and genetic material from ocean pout (an eel-like creature). The company says its “AquAdvantage” salmon grow to market-size twice as fast as other farmed salmon.

AquaBounty stated its specific plans (in various documents to the US and Canadian governments) to produce GM Atlantic salmon eggs in PEI, ship them to Panama to grow out and process for export. However, the Government of Panama has not yet approved commercial production of the GM salmon and the company is now asking the PEI government to permit construction of new buildings to grow 250 metric tons of GM Atlantic salmon every year.

Environmental Risks

The escape of farmed fish from either marine net pens or hatcheries is serious, reoccurring pollution that threatens wild species. AquaBounty has permission to grow GM fish in land-based containment, but even this containment raises concerns. Any risk of GM Atlantic salmon escaping into the wild is unacceptable, especially when Atlantic salmon are already in danger of disappearing.

  • The company says that the GM salmon will all be sterile females, but can only guarantee that 99%-95% of the salmon will be sterile.
  • There is a possibility that escaped GM salmon could breed with other species. For example, one study showed that GM salmon can interbreed with wild brown trout.

Health Risks

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.

 

Canadian Regulation

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  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?”

 

 Global Rejection of GM Fish

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 has a research and development facility in Bay Fortune, Prince Edward Island (PEI) where it also produces GM salmon eggs for export  (for further research and development in Panama), and has recently acquired a second site in PEI at Rollo Bay where it now says it wants to produce GM salmon.

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.

 

Government Funding to AquaBounty

Since 2002, the Government of Prince Edward Island has provided $818,000 in non-repayable support to AquaBounty, including grants and labour incentives. In July 2016, Island Investment Development Inc. also approved a provincial loan to the company of $717,000. AquaBounty has also received money from the federal government. In 2010, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) provided AquaBounty Canada Inc. and Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc. with a conditionally repayable contribution of $2.87 million 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.” ACOA also gave the company an unconditionally repayable contribution of $337,000 in April 2016 to develop its hatchery.

 

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.

Past Developments

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.

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.

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.

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

Letter from Groups to PEI Premier

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:

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.