February 23, 2022, Halifax, Ottawa, Sutton – For years, environmental groups in numerous countries have warned about the potential escape of genetically engineered animals into the wild. Now it has happened. Researchers in Brazil have published a paper documenting the escape and successful reproduction of genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) aquarium fish in the wild. The fish, which contains a gene from the jellyfish family to make them fluorescent, has unknown consequences for freshwater systems in Brazil. This is the first documented case of a genetically engineered animal breeding in the wild.
Canada was one of the first countries to approve the sale of Glofish (trademark name) and likewise a genetically engineered salmon now being grown in Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada. In 2021, the conservation group Nature Canada warned the Canadian Government about Glofish escaping. The Government response can be found here.
“The escape of Glofish should be a big wake-up call for Canadian regulators”, says Mark Butler, Senior Advisor with Nature Canada. “Nature Canada is calling on Canada to strengthen our law that regulates genetically engineered animals.”
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) regulates genetically engineered animals like Glofish and salmon. On February 9th, 2022, the Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault reintroduced a bill to amend CEPA (Bill S-5).
Groups such as Vigilance OGM and Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) have long criticized the Canadian Government for being too quick to approve genetically engineered organisms that have domestic and international contamination risks. They have also called for increased transparency and public engagement in the risk assessment process.
“Based on records from the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, it is clear that the Canadian Government is too close to the biotech industry, making them blind to the risks of genetic contamination,’’ says Thibault Rehn with Vigilance OGM. “By approving numerous Glofish species for sale over the years, Canada also has some responsibility for this contamination of a Brazilian ecosystem.‘’
According to 2015 polling conducted for CBAN, almost half of Canadians were concerned about the environmental impacts of releasing genetically engineered organisms, and about transparency in regulation. Yet, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada are now proposing to exempt many new gene edited plants from regulation.
“This discovery confirms the need for precaution. After decades of warnings, our government needs to take the risks of contamination from genetically engineered organisms very seriously,” said Lucy Sharratt of CBAN.
AquaBounty, the US company producing the genetically engineered salmon in PEI (and in Indiana, US), is expanding its operations in the US and has plans for other countries. Conservationists are worried that if operations expand around the world, the probability of salmon escaping will increase, putting wild Atlantic salmon populations at risk, most of which are endangered across Eastern North America.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is considering a request to approve another species of Glofish, Barb (Puntius tetrazona) in red, green, purple and orange, with a public comment period ending March 1st, 2022.
Mark Butler, Senior Advisor, Nature Canada, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thibault Rehn, Coordinateur, Vigilance OGM, 1-514-582-1674/Thibault.Rehn@gmail.com
Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, email@example.com
Nature Canada is one of the oldest national nature conservation charities in Canada. For 80 years, Nature Canada has helped protect over 110 million acres of parks and wildlife areas in Canada and countless species. Today, Nature Canada represents a network of over 130,000 members and supporters and more than 1,000 nature organizations.
Vigilance OGM is a non-profit organization that forms a network of groups and individuals from various backgrounds: farmers, environmentalists, consumers, citizens, all concerned about what we put on our plates every day and the impact of genetically modified crops on human and environmental health.
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) brings together 16 groups to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. CBAN members include farmer associations, environmental and social justice organizations, and regional coalitions of grassroots groups. CBAN is a project of MakeWay’s shared platform.