Between April and June of 2017, approximately 4.5 metric tonnes of genetically modified salmon were imported into Canada and most likely sold in Quebec, according to the National Observer. This salmon is not labelled as a genetically modified organism (GMO), nor does it legally have to be.
The GMO Atlantic salmon, created by AquaBounty Technologies, was approved for sale in Canada by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2015 for food and livestock feed, first in the U.S. and then in Canada. To create the fish, AquaBounty introduced a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a gene from the ocean pout into Atlantic salmon to ensure it could grow quickly all year round. The company was required to submit information to Health Canada outlining how the product was developed, its potential for new toxins, its potential for causing allergies, and its chemical safety. Health Canada scientists then reviewed this information. The Government of Canada determined that the genetically modified salmon created by this biotech company is “as safe and nutritious for humans and livestock as conventional salmon,” and said that the salmon does not have to be labelled for consumers as genetically engineered.
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency oversee food labelling in Canada under the Food and Drugs Act. These government departments require the identification and labelling of foods only when they determine that there is a significant health risk or a change in nutritional standards, such as the presence of an allergen. They provide guidance to manufacturers who create GMO foods for sale in Canada, but they do not require the labelling of genetically modified foods. The Standards Council of Canada — a federal Crown corporation that reports to Parliament — has asked AquaBounty to decide whether they would like to voluntarily label their GMO salmon. Health Canada says that if consumers want to know whether they are eating genetically engineered fish, they should contact the manufacturer directly.
The process of creating GMO salmon creates significant greenhouse gas emissions. GMO Atlantic salmon eggs are first created in a facility in Prince Edward Island, then shipped to Panama to grow into adult fish, and finally shipped back to Canada and the U.S. for sale. The hatchery in Rollo Bay West, PEI, that engineers these eggs is currently expanding their operation of GMO salmon to produce 250 metric tonnes of GMO Atlantic salmon per year according to a report by the CBC in June 2017.
Aquaculture — the harvesting of fish in a controlled environment — “crops” are often selected based on consumer demand rather than sustainability. According to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee, the worldwide demand for fish protein has increased significantly and overfishing has contributed to the decline of the Atlantic salmon and its addition to the endangered species list. AquaBounty is marketing its GMO fish as a “faster-growing salmon,” arguing that faster-growing fish will satisfy the global demand for animal protein and help reduce pressure on wild fish stocks.
Why doesn’t Karma sell AquaBounty salmon if the government has determined it is safe for consumption?
In October 2002, Karma created a Product Policy to help staff and members source products with environmental, political, economic, nutrition, health, and ethical considerations. At its core, the Product Policy identifies, evaluates, and takes action concerning products that could have a destructive impact on our natural environment and on animal welfare, among others. As such, the Product Policy condemns the genetic modification of plants and animals, citing both environmental and ethical considerations.
What are some of the environmental or health concerns surrounding AquaBounty GMO salmon?
- Food pellets for farmed salmon require large amounts of smaller fish, harvested from the wild, that may otherwise be used as a human food staple. Although the AquaBounty website claims that its faster-growing fish creates shorter production cycles resulting in more efficient use of feed, using wild fish to create food pellets for farmed fish still contributes to the decimation of wild fish stocks worldwide.
- AquaBounty considers the risk for escape of their salmon to be low and states that their GMO salmon are sterile. There is, however, up to a 2 percent error rate with the process used to sterilize the salmon, so it is not a guarantee that all of the GMO salmon will not escape and breed with wild salmon.
- The levels of growth hormone found in the AquAdvantage fish were not detectable based on tests performed by AquaBounty. However, more sensitive tests were available — they were just not used by the company.
The FIC welcomes any questions or thoughts about food issues that may affect our environment or our health and wellness. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information about Karma Coop’s product policy please visit http://karmacoop.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/ProductPolicyOctober2002.pdf.
By Cindy Willems, Anna Cairns, and Danielle Waters on behalf of the Food Issues Committee