Canada declares GM salmon safe, approves it for sale
After four years of review, the Canadian government concluded its study into the safety of genetically engineered salmon, declaring it safe for consumption and allowing its sale to Canadian consumers.
Health Canada, the government agency responsible for regulating whether genetically engineered (GE) salmon is safe for humans to eat, revealed its decision on Thursday, 19 May, responding to an application originally made in 2012 by United States-based AquaBounty regarding its AquAdvantage salmon, which is Atlantic salmon that has been genetically altered with genes from Chinook salmon so that it grows faster and reaches market size sooner than conventional farmed salmon. The federal agency also announced that it would not require any labels identifying AquaBounty fish as GE salmon, since “no health and safety concerns were identified.”
“Scientists with expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry and nutrition conducted a thorough analysis of the data and the protocols provided by the applicant to ensure the validity of the results,” Health Canada said in a statement. “Following this assessment, it was determined that the changes made to the salmon did not pose a greater risk to human health than salmon currently available on the Canadian market. In addition, Health Canada also concluded that the AquAdvantage salmon would have no impact on allergies, and that there are no differences in the nutritional value of the AquAdvantage salmon compared to other farmed salmon available for consumption.”
In addition to the Health Canada decision, the Animal Feed Division of the Animal Health Directorate of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency determined that feed ingredients derived from AquAdvantage salmon do not pose a threat to livestock safety, as compared to feeds derived from other permitted salmon to be used as livestock feed in Canada. The decision allows AquAdvantage salmon to be used as livestock feed in Canada, provided it continues to meet certain requirements.
"We are pleased to receive the approvals of the various authorities of Canada which means we can produce, sell and eat our AquAdvantage salmon in Canada. We thank the scientists in the Ministries of Health, Food Inspection and Fisheries of the Canadian Government for carrying out their assessments diligently and confirming the safety of our salmon for both the consumer and the environment,” AquaBounty CEO Ronald L. Stotish said in a statement.
The approvals come on the heels of a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November 2015 that permitted AquaAdvantage salmon for domestic sale and consumption – considered the first time any government in the world approved a genetically modified animal for consumption.
“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,” Stotish said. “We look forward to bringing our nutritious salmon to consumers to enjoy in an environmentally responsible manner without damaging and exploiting the oceans, with the assurance it is as safe and healthy as the Atlantic salmon they are eating now.
However, AquaBounty has yet to sell any of its genetically engineered fish in the U.S., as the FDA has banned the import and sale of GE salmon until the U.S. Congress develops guidlines regarding the labeling of genetically modified products. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has led efforts to mandate the labeling of genetically engineered salmon and has dubbed the product “Frankenfish.”
"I am incredibly disappointed to hear this news. It seems like Health Canada got this decision wrong, just like the FDA did," Murkowski said in a statement sent to SeafoodSource. "It remains inconceivable to me to take something as biologically perfect as wild Alaskan salmon and conduct a science experiment—creating a new species that could endanger our healthy fish stocks.”
AquaBounty also must overcome a lawsuit filed against the FDA by a coalition of environment, consumer, commercial and recreational fishing organizations in March. The suit alleges the FDA did not have proper authority to approve GE salmon and claims the FDA did not evaluate risks that GE salmon could escape and threaten endangered wild salmon stocks and the fishing communities that depend on those stocks.
AquaBounty told the New York Times in November 2015 that it will likely be at least two more years before any of its GE salmon reaches U.S. supermarkets. The company has one production facility in Panama capable of producing 100 tons of fish per year, grown from eggs produced in Prince Edward Island, Canada. However, the company hopes to build out facilities in the U.S. and Canada so it can expand capacity, according to the article.
Shares of AquaBounty’s parent company, Intrexon, which are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, slid down 0.56 percent to USD 26.53 (EUR 23.68) on Thursday, but rallied in after-hours trading, reaching USD 26.64 (EUR 23.78).