Some genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon is now on the market in Canada. This is the world’s first sale of GM fish, or any GM animal, for human consumption. It and was first sold in June 2017. In 2019, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change approved the production of the GM salmon at a site at an on-land facility in Prince Edward Island. This will be the first factory in Canada to produce GM salmon.
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. There is no mandatory labelling of GM foods in Canada.
CBAN Consumer Guide: How to Avoid Eating GM Salmon
CBAN Flyer – Febuary 2020: No GM Fish
CBAN Factsheet – September 2019: Genetically Modified Salmon
September 12, 2019 – Press Release: Environmental Groups Call for Seafood Industry Boycott of AquaBounty’s Salmon Eggs to Prevent Mix-Ups at Fish Farms. Canadian and U.S. environmental groups 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 modified Atlantic salmon eggs produced at the same facility in Prince Edward Island. 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. Fisheries and Oceans Canada recommended a number of conditions for production and shipping to reduce the risk of human error but the conditions are not requirements.
April 2, 2019 – Press Release: Minister Approves First Commercial GM Fish Factory: 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.
March 26, 2019 GM Contamination in Canada: The failure to contain living modified organisms – Incidents and impacts. CBAN’s new report documents in one place, for the first time, escape and contamination incidents that have occurred in Canada with genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) plants and animals. These experiences provide lessons that need to be evaluated and understood before any more genetically modified organisms are released. In Canada, experimental genetically engineered animals contaminated the food system by accident in 2002 and 2004. Read about it in the report.
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. The company then sold 4.8 tonnes in 2018. 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. Information uncovered by Vigilance OGM confirms the dates that the GM salmon arrived in Quebec and that some was sold in grocery stores but that most of it 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.
GM Salmon Production in Canada
The genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon is not yet being produced in Canada but in April 2019, the company AquaBounty announced that it has federal permission to produce GM salmon at its on-land Rollo Bay facility in PEI. The company says the first GM salmon from Canada is expected in 2020. The PEI Rollo Bay facility will produce 250 metric tonnes of GM Atlantic salmon each year.
Until now, GM salmon was grown by AquaBounty at a small pilot plant in Panama, using GM salmon eggs grown in PEI, but this plant is now closed. The PEI facility is the first of two GM fish factories in the world, both coming online at the same time. The second is in Indiana, US.
April 2, 2019: The company AquaBounty announced that the Minister of Environment and Climate Change approved the production of genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon at a site in Prince Edward Island. This will be the first factory in Canada to produce GM salmon, which is the world’s first GM food animal. Press Release – April 2, 2019: Minister Approves First Commercial GM Fish Factory: Groups raise concerns over transparency and environmental risk
June 2017: Following a court case and correspondence with environmental groups, the federal government confirmed that AquaBounty did not yet have permission to grow GM salmon at its new facility in Rollo Bay PEI.
- Press Release
- Background information on Rollo Bay’s legal status
- Click here to read the correspondence with the federal government
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.
- Press Release – April 26, 2017: World’s First GM Fish Factory Could be in Canada
- CBAN’s factsheet, Will PEI be the site of the world’s first GM fish factory? April 25, 2017
On May 19, 2016, AquaBounty’s Environmental Impact Statement stated, “The proposed facility at Rollo Bay West will have no GMO salmon.“ However on April 12, 2017, AquaBounty’s Amended Environmental Impact Statement stated, “AquaBounty will rear AquAdvantage Salmon, a sterile genetically modified salmon, from eyed egg to market size within the production facility.” Letter of approval to Aquabounty from the Government of PEI
The company AquaBounty 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.
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 of GM salmon in Canada, in land-based facilities. The 2013 decision was however challenged in court with an outcome that resulted in a new environmental assessment and an April 2019 approval of GM salmon production at Rollo Bay in PEI. The Rollo Bay site is the first GM fish factory in Canada and only the second in the world – there is a second GM fish factory in Indiana, US. Both GM fish factories are now producing GM Atlantic salmon for sale in 2020. The GM fish company AquaBounty has closed its pilot plant in Panama, which was the source of the GM salmon sold in Canada, unlabelled, since June 2017.
Because fish can escape from fish farms in the ocean, AquaBounty is only permitted to grow GM salmon on land. While land-based containment is not risk-free, in 2013 Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) concluded that the risk of escape from AquaBounty’s facility is low to moderate. Additionally, if escape happens, the company says that most or all of the GM salmon (98.5% or more) will be sterile (via triploidy) females.
According to the 2019 risk assessment from DFO, however, AquaBounty now proposes to produce and sell non-GM salmon eggs as well as GM salmon eggs at its P.E.I. factory. DFO made a number of recommendations for production and shipping practices to prevent the accidental mixing of GM and non-GM eggs but these are not requirements.
AquaBounty says its GM fish is “the world’s most sustainable salmon” because it will be produced on land, removing many of the negative ecological impacts of fish farming, and it will be produced closer to urban markets to have a smaller carbon footprint. The company says it will take 25% less feed to get the fast-growing GM salmon to market, requiring less wild fish to be converted into salmon feed.
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 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
- The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance states that their members, who represent “virtually all farmed salmon in Canada” and are some of the biggest aquaculture companies in the world, “do not farm or sell GE farmed salmon, and are not growing or researching GE salmon”.
- Grocery stores in the US are now pledging not to use GM seafood.
- 76 groups in Canada have already registered their opposition to the production of GM fish and fish eggs.
42% of AquaBounty now is owned by billionaire venture capitalist Randal Kirk via his company Third Security. In 2004, AquaBounty Farms was renamed as AquaBounty Technologies Inc., with corporate headquarters in Massachusetts, and in 2012, the US-based biotechnology company Intrexon acquired a 48% interest. In October 2019, Intrexon sold its shares to the venture capital firm Third Security led by former Intrexon CEO Randal Kirk. In January 2020, Intrexon changed its name to Precigen Inc. and a new president and chief executive officer took over from Kirk, who was named executive chairman of the board of directors.
AquaBounty has a long-standing research and development facility in Bay Fortune, Prince Edward Island (PEI) where it was producing GM salmon eggs for export to Panama for more research and for limited production. AquaBounty closed its pilot plant in Panama in 2019 and has finished construction of two GM fish factories: one at Rollo Bay, PEI and another in Indiana, US, with first “harvests” of GM fish expected for June 2020.
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. 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.
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.
Allegations of Misleading Advertising in Canada
February 8, 2018 – Press Release: GM Salmon: Allegations of misleading advertising not to be addressed by Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In December 2018, CBAN filed a complaint of AquaBounty’s misleading advertising to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The CFIA’s response to CBAN stated, “As Aqua Bounty’s home page www.aquabounty.com is not based in Canada, it does not fall under CFIA jurisdiction.”
Government Funding to AquaBounty
In 2018, the Government of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) provided a $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. This is in addition to $818,000 in non-repayable support since 2002 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 2009, the federal government Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) provided AquaBounty Canada Inc. and Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc. with $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.” This agreement provides for a 10% royalty from product sales to the federal government. ACOA also gave the company an unconditionally repayable contribution of $337,000 in April 2016 to develop its hatchery. AquaBounty states that it is not the GM salmon itself that is the subject of royalty repayments, which product sales will provide 10% royalties to the federal government is unknown. CBAN requested information on the royalty agreement from the Minister Innovation, Science and Economic Development – you can read the response here.
- For more information read CBAN’s article A fishy return on investment: The policy collision over genetically modified salmon, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, The Monitor, September/October 2018.
How Canadians Bankrolled the World’s First Genetically Engineered Food Animal: Taxpayers have invested $8.2 million in the development of a rapid-growth salmon that first hit shelves last year. Christopher Pollon, Vice Magazine, March 21 2018.
GM Salmon Environmental Risk Assessment
December 5, 2018 – CBC has confirmed that the federal government is conducting a new environmental risk assessment of the GM salmon. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change will announce a decision to approve or reject GM salmon production in Canada before March 2019.
December 3, 2018 – Press Release: Canadian Environmental Groups and Seafood Companies Concerned Over GM Salmon Introduction. Twenty-six environmental groups and seafood companies are together expressing concern over the introduction of genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) salmon in Canada and calling on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) to ensure precautionary and transparent regulation of GM fish.“We need to set a stronger precedent for regulating such a potentially dangerous organism,” said Karen Wristen of Living Oceans Society in BC. “We cannot afford to make any mistakes with GM fish.” The joint letter signed by 19 environmental groups and 7 seafood companies in Canada is calling on the Minister to ensure better regulation of GM fish and establish mandatory GM food labelling.
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.
October 2018: 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. Read CBAN’s comments to the government.
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.
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.
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.
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.