Issues around genetically modified salmon are going to end up in the Canadian court system, and many consumers continue to be wary. Some say that Canada could become a live laboratory for the first GMO animal grown for human consumption.
Without due public consultation, Environment Canada has allowed an American firm AquaBounty to clear a critical step when it permitted the company to produce genetically-modified salmon eggs on a commercial scale. They are looking for approval from Health Canada to allow GMO salmon for Canadian consumption.
Ironically, authorities in the United States have refused to allow Americans to consume GMO salmon for nearly 20 years. It could be on our plates soon, without even a label identifying this new breed of farmed fish.
Respected scientist David Suzuki warns Canadians that these mutant fish are a danger to our fish stock. Years of commercially farmed fish have demonstrated that these salmon could escape and imperil our native fish stocks.
Environmental groups want the courts to decide if the federal government violated its own law by allowing the manufacture of genetically modified salmon in Canada. The Ecology Action Centre in Halifax is involved in the battle.
“Canadians expect their government to implement, not ignore, the laws that protect our ecosystems from harm,” said Tanya Nayler, one of the Ecojustice lawyers representing Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society. “By granting approval for this genetically modified species without obtaining all the legally required information, the government has once again failed the environment and Canadians.”
The groups assert the approval is unlawful because it failed to assess whether genetically modified salmon could become invasive, potentially putting ecosystems and species like wild salmon at risk. Both groups are asking the court to set aside the government’s assessment and require the government to comply with the law before permitting the manufacture of these genetically modified organisms.
Genetic material from Chinook salmon and the eel-like species ocean pout were inserted into Atlantic salmon eggs to create AquAdvantage salmon. According to AquaBounty, the genetically modified salmon grows to market size faster than conventional salmon.
“The Atlantic salmon has evolved over millions of years and is found in cold-water rivers from Maine to Russia,” said Susanna Fuller of the Ecology Action Centre. “The move to commercial production of GM Atlantic salmon puts this magnificent wild fish at risk of irreversible genetic contamination.”
Filed in December, the lawsuit challenges decisions made by federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq and health minister Rona Ambrose.
AquaBounty plans to grow the genetically modified salmon eggs in P.E.I. and transport them to Panama, where they will grow to full size. However, the approval would also allow the manufacture and grow out of the genetically modified salmon elsewhere in Canada under certain conditions.
Another worrying aspect of this case is the lack of transparency and public consultation in the decision-making process. Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society in B.C., said, “This is the world’s first genetically modified food animal to go into production.”
She pointed out that approval occurred without any public debate and under circumstances that look like a deliberate attempt to prevent public comment.
Canadians should have a right to know about a decision like this in advance of it being made.