he AquaBounty salmon grows faster to market size than natural salmon. Environmental lawyers have been fighting the government approval for the company to market the fish to consumers, the fist such approval aof a GM food animal in the world

The AquaBounty salmon grows faster to market size than natural salmon. Environmental lawyers have been fighting the government approval for the company to market the fish to consumers, the first such approval of a GM food animal in the world
Photo Credit: AquaBounty

Another setback for groups opposed to GM salmon


Environmental groups have been very concerned since the government granted approval for the creation of genetically modified salmon.

A bio-tech firm established in the maritime province of Prince Edward Island has created a salmon that grows bigger, faster than natural salmon in the wild.

Environmental groups say there is a real danger of salmon escaping and breeding with natural salmon, and that the government did not adhere to their own regulations in granting approvals.

Environmentalists appealed an earlier decision in the government’s (and company’s) favour but recently lost that appeal as well.

Mark Butler is the policy director of the Ecology Action Centre, a non-profit NGO, based in Halifax Nova Scotia

Ecology Action Centre, policy director Mark Butler
Ecology Action Centre, policy director Mark Butler © supplied

The  bio-tech company AquaBounty, now has permission to grow and market genetically modified salmon for sale for human consumption in Canada.

It’s the first approved sale of a genetically modified food animal in the world.  Arguing against the approval were Ecojustice, Living Oceans Society, and the Ecology Action Centre

They had been challenging the government approval saying the government didn’t follow its own environmental regulations in giving its approval for the GM fish.  Butler also says the groups were surprised that the approval given to the company went beyond even what the biotech firm had asked for.  In an October Federal Court of Appeal case, the environmental groups arguments were rejected, and the approval stands.

Kaitlyn Mitchell, Ecojustice lawyer,   “We are disappointed that the Federal Court of Appeal (Oct. 21) has decided to uphold approval of the use and manufacture of genetically-modified salmon at a potentially unlimited number of facilities throughout the country.  Decision-making under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is to be science-based and precautionary but in this case then-Ministers Ambrose and Aglukkaq did not follow key recommendations made by scientific experts. Rather than adhering to the precautionary principle, our clients believe the Ministers approved uses of this genetically-modified food animal that were not subject to a science-based risk assessment despite the potential for serious risks to the environment and wild Atlantic salmon in the event of an accidental escape.”

Butler also says the government approval was made without any consultation from the public or with stakeholders such as fishermen, or even farmed fish operators.

October 2016: Ecojustice lawyers, Kaitlyn Mitchell, Scott McAnsh with Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), and Ecology Action Centre policy director, Mark Butler. They say the Canadian government ignored requirements of the Environmental Act in approving the GM salmon
October 2016: Ecojustice lawyers, Kaitlyn Mitchell, Scott McAnsh with Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), and Ecology Action Centre policy director, Mark Butler. They say the Canadian government ignored requirements of the Environmental Act in approving the GM salmon © Ecojustice

He says that there have been documented case of escapes from commercial fish farms, even land-based, He adds that AquaBounty’s company technology of three chromosomes which is claimed to prevent reproduction is only about 95 percent effective. Butler notes that in commercial operations with hundreds of thousands of fish, five percent is still a lot of reproductive capable fish.

Opening the door to other GM animals

The other concern is that this could be seen as a precedent for creation of other genetically modified animals for food purposes. Environmental groups are also concerned that the government decision allows the technology for GM salmon to be licensed to other facilities across the country and not just at the P.E.I location.

Butler says this increases even further the risk of accidents and escape of GM fish

With this recent legal setback, the groups say they are examining their options to determine if further action is possible through the courts, or whether to pursue other courses such as through public awareness.

If the production of genetically modified salmon cannot be stopped,  Living Oceans Society says it will focus on labelling of GM salmon so that consumers will have the choice whether or not to buy it.  They note that some major retailers across North America have pledged not to sell the product, and say “we can perhaps contain the damage that this approval may cause”.

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2 comments on “Another setback for groups opposed to GM salmon
  1. Robert Wager, the sterility of the fish is not an absolute: the sterility of the fish is achieved via triploidy and this is not 100% effective. AquaBounty says it has achieved 99.8% sterility. Under US government regulatory approval, AquaBounty is only required to achieve a 95% sterility rate. The fact is that some of the GM fish may be fertile.

    To say “they do not out compete wild salmon in realistic food systems” is wrong in at least two ways. 1) Firstly, the research has specifically flagged this risk. Department of Fisheries and Oceans research has indicated there is a risk of the GM fish out-competing wild salmon if they escape. Lab experiments with a GM (coho) salmon found aggressive behaviour and suggest the possibility of out-competing in times of food shortage. The researcher created semi-natural stream tanks in the laboratory to examine the possible ecological impacts of GM salmon escape. He observed changed behaviour in the GM salmon.(Devlin, Robert, et al. 2004.) 2) Secondly, there is no way to know exactly what would happen in the open environment – hence the concern. The lead DFO researcher said, “But our research has also shown the limitations of laboratory research for risk assessments. We can’t release genetically engineered fish into the wild and monitor them; that would be too risky. But we’re also unable to accurately re-create an ocean or river in the lab. That means we are finding it difficult to predict with confidence what would happen with genetically engineered salmon in nature, with all its variables.” http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/Publications/article/2007/28-03-2007-eng.htm

  2. Avatar Robert Wager says:

    These fish are sterile and so cannot reproduce. They do not out compete wild salmon in realistic food systems. It is very clear the federal government did in fact do their homework before they permitted this product to market. The only criticisms the critics seem to have have all been looked at and dismissed. Yet they persist in claiming otherwise. I was very pleased to see the court also made the critics pay all court costs as it was clear before the case there was no substance to their appeal.