GM salmon egg production in Canada to be challenged in the courts

The Guardian reports, 17th November 2015: Environmental groups are taking the Canadian government to court in an attempt to halt the production of genetically modified salmon eggs, claiming that the process risks a “huge live experiment” with the genetic make-up of all wild Atlantic salmon.

A US firm has been granted permission to produce fertile salmon eggs in Canada and ship them to Panama, where they will be grown in the hope that the fish will be given approval for human consumption in the US and Canada.

GM Salmon

A genetically engineered salmon from AquaBounty Technologies, rear, with a conventionally raised sibling roughly the same age. Credit Paul Darrow for The New York Times

AquaBounty Technologies, which is based in Massachusetts (USA), insists that its genetically modified fish pose no threat to the environment and will be kept in special disease and antibiotic-free conditions. 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, AquaBounty claims.

However, environmentalists argue that there is a real risk of mixing between the GM salmon and wild fish, and that the Canadian government was wrong to approve the production of the eggs in Prince Edward Island.

“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 Mark Butler, campaigner at the Ecology Action Centre, which is bringing the case alongside the Living Oceans Society.

“We think the measures to avoid mixing with the wild Atlantic salmon are inadequate and once there is genetic contamination the wild salmon is forever changed. It would be a huge live experiment and we wouldn’t know the consequences.”

Butler said hurricanes, human error or equipment failure could release the GM fish from their land-based hatcheries into the ocean. He added that treatment to ensure the GM salmon cannot reproduce is not always effective.

The environmentalists’ court case alleges that 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 has been seeking approval to sell its GM products for consumption in the US since 1995. The company’s chief executive, Ron Stotish, said the court case is “completely without merit”.

A spokeswoman for Environment Canada, the government’s environmental agency, would not comment on the case.

Source: The Guardian, 17th November 2015. For the full details, see www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/17/canada-sued-genetically-modified-salmon-scheme-approval-environmental-groups


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