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AquaBounty’s CEO is defending the company’s actions in Canada after a lawsuit was filed earlier this week against the company and the Canadian agency that approved the company’s genetically modified (GM) salmon.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not issued final approval of AquAdvantage salmon, making Canada the first country in the world to approve GM salmon production.

Canadian environmental groups Ecology Action Center and Living Oceans Society filed a legal complaint on 20 January alleging that Canada’s Minister of Environment and Minister of Health failed to determine whether GM salmon could become invasive. The groups also say that Environment Canada’s quick approval process did not allow for public input on the issue.

“There was no public consultation and no notice. The decision was made within six months of the application,” Susanna Fuller, marine conservation coordinator for Ecology Action Center, told SeafoodSource. 

Plus, the Canadian government is not equipped to make a ruling on GM products of any type, at this point. “Canada is setting a global precedent for genetically modified organisms, but it doesn’t have any regulations in place for GMOs. We have no labeling laws,” Fuller said.

However, Ron Stotish, AquaBounty CEO, said the Canadian government followed its own regulations when assessing AquAdvantage. “We believe this action has no merit. They employed an independent panel of expert reviews — 25 independent people from across Canada — who published a risk assessment. We believe they followed their requirements and their laws to the letter,” Stotish told SeafoodSource.

AquAdvantage’s approval process has undergone rigorous scrutiny by both U.S. and Canadian agencies, according to Stotish. “This is perhaps the most transparent and publicized application in the history of regulations,” Stotish said.

Stotish also countered the groups’ concerns that escapes of GM salmon could lead to contamination of wild salmon and damage the ecosystem. “Two major regulatory bodies in the U.S. and Canada have reviewed our procedures and the nature of our fish, and have satisfied themselves that they are sterile, all female, and are raised in the environment in which they were made for…physically contained, land-based systems,” Stotish said.

While Ecology Action Center contends that AquaBounty has already had some escapes at its facility in Panama, that is “absolutely, categorically, and blatantly untrue,” Stotish said.

“There has never been an escape of fish from any of our facilities. It is a tactic that groups are using to create fear.”

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