AquaBounty is planning to preemptively label its genetically modified salmon in the United States in 2020, a company spokesperson told SeafoodSource soon after Canadian seafood industry executives and NGOs spoke out against the fish.
At the Canadian Seafood Show in Montreal, Quebec, in September, a panel of seafood industry executives and environmental groups said that they do not plan to sell or support AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage salmon in Canada.
While Dave Conley, spokesperson for Maynard, Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, previously told SeafoodSource that the suppler is considering labeling its GM salmon in Canada, this is the first time the supplier has revealed its plans for labeling the salmon in the U.S.
“We are committed to transparency and are proud of the product we produce using biotechnology. Therefore, we plan to pre-emptively label in 2020, in advance of the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] requirements to label in 2022, using the bioengineered foods symbol developed by USDA,” Conley told SeafoodSource.
AquaBounty is “conducting consumer research to determine how best to communicate the benefits of our product and where/how it is raised so we may augment our label based on the learning from the research,” Conley said. “We will also be working closely with customers to insure we provide them with the information they require for their consumers.”
AquaBounty is “still considering” what it will do in terms of labeling its product in Canada, according to Conley.
“As in the U.S., we will be conducting consumer research to determine how best to communicate the benefits of our product,” Conley said.
Labeling AquAdvantage salmon is the “minimal action” AquaBounty should take to give consumers the choice of consuming GM salmon or not, Frantz Perrot, quality control manager for Lagoon Seafood in Montreal, a major wholesaler to grocery chains such as Metro and Sobey’s, told SeafoodSource. At the Canadian Seafood Show, he said the company will not carry AquAdvantage salmon.
Perrot does not believe that AquaBounty will label GM salmon in Canada, since the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does not require it to do so.
“The truth is that, even if the master cases label indicates GM, as soon as the product goes in production for any kind of transformation (such as fillets, steaks, and ready to cook meals), the traceability of the GM is lost as no rule in Canada makes it compulsory to indicate GM after the processing of the salmon,” Perrot said.
While the quantities of AquAdvantage salmon are “very minimal (250 tons of GM salmon compared to a total of 122,000 tons of salmon in Canada)”, according to Perrot, he believes the sale of GM salmon could harm the overall salmon industry.
“The problem is the presence of that GM salmon on the market will affect the perception of salmon in general by the consumers who could decide to stop consuming salmon at all by precaution. Finally, the inexistence of legislation in Canada concerning the labelling of GM salmon could lead foreign markets like European Union to stop importing Canadian salmon,” he said.
Conley disagreed that consumers would stop purchasing all salmon to avoid GM salmon.
“The data shows that global salmon farm production has grown year-on-year for 30 years and is now about 2.3 to 2.5 million metric tons per year, and demand still exceeds supply,” he said.
However, AquaBounty recognizes that “transparency is an important consideration for us and for consumers,” Conley said. “Therefore, we have stated we would consider pre-emptively labeling and are considering our labeling options, working with potential customers to determine the appropriate approach.”
While Lagoon is not opposed to the production of GM salmon, “we consider that the principle of precaution should be applied, and Lagoon does not want to be the company that puts that product on the market. This is an ethical decision driven by our company principles,” Perrot said.
“We have no idea of the impact of the consumption of GM salmon on human health. We have no scientific record to rely on,” he added.
In addition to Lagoon, other major distributors, grocery chains, and restaurants chains in the U.S. and Canada have said they will not carry AquAdvantage salmon once it is available.
At the Canadian Seafood Show, Kathleen Allen, Canadian commercial manager for the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), also said that the organization does not certify GM salmon.
“ASC doesn’t certify GM salmon due to the unknown environmental effects. Of course, the aquaculture industry is dynamic and technologies and methods are changing all of the time, and ASC is always monitoring the wider industry and our own program to ensure it remains robust and relevant,” said ASC in a statement to SeafoodSource.
AquaBounty, which is “examining ASC and BAP certification standards,” according to Conley, does not understand why ASC is opposed to certifying GM salmon operations.
“If the ASC executive’s comments were about farming our salmon in sea pens, then that is understandable. However, if she was commenting about contained land-based RAS facilities like the ones we use, then these are already certifiable by several standards and are promoted as Best Choice by the Seafood Watch program,” he said.