Warnings of Food Safety Threats as Canada Green Lights 'Frankenfish'

"Canadians could now be faced with the world's first GMO food animal, approved with no public consultation and no labeling." (Photo: Julia Manzerova/flickr/cc)

Warnings of Food Safety Threats as Canada Green Lights 'Frankenfish'

"Health Canada's approval is irresponsible and disappointing," said Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth

Despite a sustained effort from public health and climate activists, genetically modified (GM or GMO) salmon has been officially sanctioned for sale in Canada.

And if that wasn't foreboding enough, a pending trade deal between Canada and the European Union means the country's first approved GMO food animal, known colloquially as the "Frankenfish," could soon be sold and eaten internationally.

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced their approval of the U.S.-based biotechnology company AquaBounty's salmon--which will be shipped as eggs from Prince Edward Island to laboratories in Panama, where they will be grown to their adult full size and sent back to Canada for sale and consumption--on Thursday.

The approval comes despite two ongoing court battles against the Canadian government and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which were filed by environmental groups including the Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia and the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C.

Ecology Action Centre filed its lawsuit in 2015 after the Canadian government approved the manufacturing of the GMO salmon eggs, which the group said was done in secret and violated environmental protections.

On Thursday, the group's policy coordinator Mark Butler told CBC that there was "no consultation with Canadians" on the salmon.

Friends of the Earth, another of the groups involved in the lawsuit against the FDA, denounced the approval and noted that it comes despite a draft risk assessment from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans that raised concerns about the safety of the fish themselves, finding that they are more susceptible to disease-causing bacteria.

"Health Canada's approval is irresponsible and disappointing," said Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, said that "Canadians could now be faced with the world's first GMO food animal, approved with no public consultation and no labeling."

Meanwhile, the social action organization Council of Canadians pointed out a new concern now that the Frankenfish have been approved--where exactly they will be sold. Under the controversial pending Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), tariff rates on salmon would be eliminated, "meaning more Canadian salmon will be sold in Europe," the group said.

Like the similar TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal percolating in the U.S., CETA includes regulatory provisions that would empower corporate interests to "push against" standards that reject GMO foods--standards that tend to be higher in Europe, the Council of Canadians said, concluding, "CETA and TTIP are a threat to food safety."

Friends of the Earth called on grocery retailers to keep the product out of their aisles.

"GM salmon production threatens the future of wild Atlantic salmon," said Calinda Brown of the Ecology Action Centre. "Retailers can protect consumers and the environment by making sure this GM fish never makes it to grocery store shelves."

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