woman at salmon counter

GE salmon: closer to approval

Sound Consumer | January 2014

— from wire reports

Canada has given the green light to commercial production of genetically engineered (GE) salmon eggs, bringing the world's first GE food animal closer to supermarkets and dinner tables.

Canada is the first government to grant approval to biotech company AquaBounty to raise its GE salmon for commercial production. Canada previously only permitted the company to do research. The Canadian government has not yet approved the fish for consumption in Canada.

The move clears the way for AquaBounty to scale up production of the salmon at its sites in Prince Edward Island and Panama as part of the business plan for eventual approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA is expected to issue a decision soon on whether GE salmon will be approved for U.S. markets and, eventually, more than 30 other species of GE fish currently under development.

While approval moves forward in Canada, new questions are being raised about AquaBounty's production plan and facilities.

Problems in Panama

In November, a legal petition filed in Panama by an environmental group revealed AquaBounty's experimental production facility is missing multiple, legally required permits and inspections, including a wastewater discharge permit. The petition was supported by an international coalition of organizations including Center for Food Safety, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and GeneWatch.

AquaBounty intends to produce GE fish at locations around the world, threatening populations of wild fish and the livelihoods of fishermen. If its GE salmon is approved, it could set a precedent for approval for more than 30 other GE fish in development.

Recent reports show the Panamanian facility to be far from the high-tech plant promised by AquaBounty in its application to FDA. Instead, it appears to be without simple precautions and vulnerable to extreme weather, such as flooding, which is common in the area.

Reports of fish escapes from the Panamanian facility already have surfaced. Similar concerns have been raised in Canada about AquaBounty's facility on Prince Edward Island, only 120 feet from a major waterway known to contain native wild salmon.

Farmed salmon often are raised in floating net pens in the ocean, where hundreds of thousands escape every year. Documents uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request and the company's own public pronouncements show AquaBounty has no plans to limit production to Panama and Canada. It fully intends to produce GE fish at other locations around the world.

George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, says AquaBounty has demonstrated "a dangerous pattern of noncompliance and mismanagement ... raising the likelihood of an environmentally damaging escape of these fish."

AquaBounty "demoralized"

Over the last year, thousands of grocery stores across the United States, including PCC Natural Markets, have said they will not sell GE salmon if approved.

"It's been demoralizing ... this thing is so off the rails," AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish told IntraFish. Stotish said the product has been targeted because it's the first of its kind.

"Why stop the first one just because there might be others later?" he said. "It's inappropriate, it's anti-American to stop something because it's new and there might be something else afterwards. It's a terrible situation to be in."

The potential for other genetically engineered animals, and the lack of labeling, is what makes the GE salmon worrisome. According to Friends of the Earth's Dana Perls, FDA's approval of GE salmon would "open the floodgates" to a number of other genetically modified fish. She says 35 other species of fish are in the pipeline — and consumers wouldn't know what they are eating, let alone what created it.

The approval also could make way for other countries to create similar genetically engineered meat and fish.

Pete Knutson, owner of Loki Fish Company in Seattle, says the approval of GE seafood would cause economic damage to the commercial fishing industry. Knutson sells 200,000 pounds of fish annually and says his business won't survive unless FDA rejects the GE salmon.

"Farmed salmon consistently is being mislabeled as wild, undercutting our business," he said. "As soon as (GE salmon) gets approved, it'll give (fish) farmers around the globe an even greater competitive edge."

More about: biotechnology, GE foods, GE salmon, sustainable seafood

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