Canadian Approval Puts 'Frankenfish' One Step Closer to Dinner Plate

Facility on Prince Edward Island can now begin commercial production of genetically-modified salmon eggs

The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has moved 'Frankenfish' one step closer to the plates of consumers by approving the commercial production of genetically-engineered (or -modified GE/GM) salmon eggs in Canada.

AquaBounty, the U.S.-based company behind the drive to commercialize the freakishly fast-growing salmon, now has permission to transform its research facility on Prince Edward Island, well-known as a seafood mecca on the north Atlantic coast, into a production facility where salmon eggs spliced with genes from a seal eel can be produced on a mass scale.

Food safety were quick to criticize the move.

"We are alarmed and disappointed by the short-sightedness of this decision," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety, in a statement. "GE salmon production, in Canada or anywhere else, threatens native salmon survival around the world."

As the Guardian reports:

The decision marked the first time any government had given the go-ahead to commercial scale production involving a GM food animal.

The move clears the way for AquaBounty to scale up production of the salmon at its sites in PEI and Panama in anticipation of eventual approval by American authorities.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to render a decision in the near future on the sale of GM salmon, and in due course some 30 other species of GM fish currently under development, campaigners and industry figures said.

Kimbrell was adamant that FDA approval would be mistake, saying his group "has spearheaded U.S. opposition to approval of this experimental GE fish for over a decade because of its inherent irreversible harms. Yet FDA has thus far refused to rigorously analyze the impacts of GE salmon. It must do so before even considering any approval."

Though the eggs in Canada would not yet be allowed to grow into fish, the decision by country's regulatory body, Environment Canada, was startling to those concerned about the safety of the "AquAdvantage Salmon(tm)" (yes, its trademarked) who cite concerns about what would happen if these fish escape their hatcheries or commingle with native Atlantic salmon.

"This is one concrete step closer to the reality of GM fish on our plates, and unfortunately it is a really dramatic step," said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network to the Guardian. "It's a global first, and it has a significant global potential impact for our environment. It starts a chain of decisions that could be just disastrous for our aquatic ecosystems."

And Sharon Labchuk, of the P.E.I. group "Islanders Say No to Frankenfish," told the local Prince Edward Island Guardian that the idea of genetically altering fish is "very experimental and the risks of anything going wrong are disastrous. They can wipe out the wild salmon population if these fish ever escape and their eggs end up in the wild rivers."

And Pratap Chatterjee, editor of CorpWatch, adds:

Environment Canada's decision is a little unusual given that AquaBounty has come under fire for failing to meet Panamanian environmental regulations. Last week AquaBounty was the subject of a complaint from the Environmental Advocacy Center of Panama to Panama's National Environmental Authority after a 2012 investigation showed that the company had failed to submit regular monitoring or obtain permits for wastewater discharge.

"These allegations suggest a dangerous pattern of non-compliance and mismanagement by AquaBounty, raising the likelihood of an environmentally damaging escape of these fish," George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety, wrote in a press release last week. "This news further undermines the empty assurances that AquaBounty and the Food and Drug Administration have given the public and suggests that Panama's environmental laws may have also been broken."

AquaBounty has been conducting research and running tests on genetically modified fish for some 20 years in the hope that it will eventually win approval to market its products in the estimated $100 billion global fish market. The company is also testing modifications of other fish like tilapia and trout.


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