Health Canada approves salmon genetically modified to grow more quickly
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, May 19, 2016 2:00PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 27, 2017 6:24AM EDT
Canadian consumers could soon be eating so-called “frankenfish” without even knowing it, after Health Canada approved the sale of salmon genetically modified to grow quicker, and said it won’t require any special labelling.
AquAdvantage salmon, a product of Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies Inc., is an Atlantic species genetically modified using genetic material from Chinook salmon and the eel-like ocean pout that allows it to grow year-round.
Anti-GMO groups have called the salmon “frankenfish,” but Health Canada said in a statement Thursday that its scientists, along with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, has tested the salmon and found it to be “as safe and nutritious for humans and livestock as conventional salmon.”
“GM foods that have been approved by Health Canada have been consumed in Canada for many years, and are safe and nutritious,” the agency said.
“Changes to the genes of plants and animals can improve food quality and production … allowing foods to be grown more quickly,” the statement went on.
AquaBounty issued a statement thanking the regulatory agency for “confirming the safety of our salmon for both the consumer and the environment.”
"Alongside the approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November 2015, there are now two independent reviews by two of the most sophisticated and demanding regulators in the world and both have come to the same conclusion,” the company said.
No special labels
Health Canada noted in its news release that “given that no health and safety concerns were identified, there are no special labelling requirements for AquAdvantage Salmon.”
AquaBounty’s Dave Conley told The Canadian Press that the company hasn't decided whether it will voluntarily label the fish to point out that it has been modified.
NDP health critic Don Davies said he thinks Canadians deserve to know what they’re eating.
"If it is safe ... then labelling should not be an issue,” Davies said.
Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay said a special committee will examine issues surrounding genetically modified food and make recommendations later this year.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the genetically modified salmon last November, but not without controversy.
The environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth lobbied against approval, stating that they believe the “frankenfish” could cause “irreversible damage to wild salmon populations.”
Halifax’s Ecology Action Centre has similar concerns. It is in the process of appealing a Federal Court ruling that has allowed the company to continue producing its modified salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island.
The Ecology Action Centre’s Mark Butler insists the fish poses a risk to wild salmon.
“These fish could escape and breed with wild salmon and (their offspring) would then have the genetic material of other species in them,” he said. “Once the genie is out of the bottle -- once the salmon is out of the containment facility -- we’re not getting it back.”
The FDA said when announcing that it had given the green light that it expected “no significant impact on the environment of the United States.”
“That’s because the multiple containment measures the company will use in the land-based facilities in Panama and Canada make it extremely unlikely that the fish could escape and establish themselves in the wild,” the agency wrote at the time.
The FDA also noted that only sterile females will be allowed and “multiple and redundant levels of physical barriers” will keep the salmon from escaping and breeding with non-GMO fish.
Regardless, some U.S. retailers have said they won't sell the product, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.
Large export market
Canada is the fourth-largest producer of farmed salmon in the world, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
In 2013, producers sold about $813 million worth of farmed salmon, making it Canada’s third-largest seafood export by value.
The farmed salmon industry provides more than 10,000 jobs, mostly in British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces, according to the DFO.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV National’s Todd Battis