The Canadian government is being sued by environmental groups in order to stop AquaBounty Technologies from producing genetically modified (GM) salmon eggs in Canada and shipping them to Panama. Assuring the GM salmon will be kept in special disease- and antibiotic-free conditions, AquaBounty claims its GM salmon “pose no threat to the environment. AquaBounty also claims the modified fish can grow to the size of wild salmon with 75% less feed, reducing the product’s carbon footprint by up to 25 times, reported Food Dive on Wednesday.
Calling the process a “huge live experiment,” environmentalists are concerned that mixing GM salmon and wild fish could tamper with the genetic makeup of all wild Atlantic salmon. They are worried that the measures put in place to prevent this mixing are “inadequate” which could lead to unforeseeable consequences, according to Mark Butler, campaigner at the Ecology Action Centre.
The lawsuit states, “The Canadian government breached its own environmental laws by providing AquaBounty with a far wider permit than it was assessed on, potentially opening the way for other companies to produce GM fish eggs in Canada.” The lawsuit also states the government did not follow the correct procedures in its approval.
AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish, stated the environmentalists’ lawsuit is “completely without merit.” Trying to get its GM salmon approved to sell for consumption in the U.S., has a 20-year quest for AquaBounty.
“This will potentially be the world’s first genetically modified fish available for human consumption and it’s clear the GM industry wants to get other animal products approved after this,” said Butler.
Based in Massachusetts, AquaBounty Technologies believe the future of sustainable seafood is on land. They believe that by raising disease-free, antibiotic-free salmon away from the ocean, they eliminate the risk of escapes impacting native fish populations and the risk of pollutants or contaminants harming marine ecosystems.
According to the New York Times, Thursday federal regulators approved a genetically engineered salmon as fit for consumption. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval ends a long struggle for AquaBounty Technologies. People involved in the application suspect that the Obama administration delayed approval because it was wary of a political backlash. The new GM salmon is the first genetically altered animal to be cleared for American supermarkets and dinner tables.
Some consumer and environmental groups have fiercely opposed the approval of the salmon. Nicknamed the AquAdvantage salmon, the Atlantic salmon has been genetically modified so that it grows to market size faster than a non-engineered farmed salmon, in as little as half the time.
The AquAdvantage salmon contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a genetic switch from the ocean pout, an eel-like creature, that keeps the transplanted gene continuously active, whereas the salmon’s own growth hormone gene is active only parts of the year. The company has said the fish can grow to market weight in 18 to 20 months, compared with 28 to 36 months for conventionally farmed salmon.
Officials have said the fish would not have to be labeled as being genetically engineered, a policy consistent with its stance on foods made from genetically engineered crops. The option to voluntarily label the salmon as genetically engineered or to label other salmon as not genetically engineered has been left open.
A spokeswoman for Environment Canada, the government’s environmental agency, would not comment on the case. Currently, the fish are being raised in Panama, from eggs produced in Prince Edward Island, Canada. If the salmon were bred or raised elsewhere, for marketing to Americans, that would require separate approvals.