In May this year, health authorities in Canada approved the sale of genetically modified salmon. The fast-growing salmon, engineered by AquaBounty Technologies, have an added growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon and promoter sequence from an ocean pout antifreeze protein gene. The additional gene and promoter allow AquaBounty’s GM salmon (called AquAdvantage) to grow twice as fast as non-GM Atlantic salmon.
AquaBounty touts its engineered fish as “the world’s most sustainable salmon” and Health Canada says on its website: “It was determined that the changes made to the salmon did not pose a greater risk to human health that salmon currently available on the Canadian market.”
Late last year, the FDA approved the commercial sale of AquAdvantange salmon in the U.S., but in January this year put a ban on its import until GM labeling issues are resolved.
AquAdvantage salmon is the first GM food animal to be approved in either Canada or the U.S. and AquaBounty CEO Ronald Stotish said to the Globe and Mail “This opens the door now for an important technology to grow food for our future.”
But Americans aren’t buying the hype, and probably won’t be buying the GM salmon when the importation ban is lifted.
More than 70% of people who answered a New York Times poll said they would buy less salmon if genetically engineered salmon were introduced to the market without labeling. Since salmon is one of the most consumed seafood products in the U.S., this statistic is significant for seafood sellers. In addition, retailers received letters and petitions asking them to shun AquAdvantage, including a petition demanding Costco not sell GM salmon, which gathered 300,000 signatures.
And retailers listened. Friends of the Earth have published a list of grocery outlets and restaurant chain refusing to sell genetically altered salmon. The list of 80 companies who have committed to keeping GE-free seafood out of their stores includes Safeway, Costco, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Target, and Whole Foods.
In Canada, there is no requirement for AquaBounty to label its GM fish, so Canadian consumers won’t know if the salmon they purchase and eat is genetically engineered or not.
The Ecology Action Centre (EAC) in Halifax is fighting Environment Canada’s decision to allow production of genetically engineered salmon eggs in Canada and argues the GM salmon pose a serious threat to wild salmon populations. EAC is currently appealing a Federal Court ruling not to overturn Environment Canada’s approval of GM salmon egg production.
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