Genetically modified salmon should carry an identifying label if the product is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance says.
'If it's the same, why distinguish it?' — Ronald Stotish, Aqua Bounty CEO
Scientists with the FDA released research this month that concluded salmon genetically modified by the company Aqua Bounty was safe to eat and not substantially different from other salmon.
The U.S. company has a major rearing operation on Prince Edward Island, and the possible escape of its salmon into the wild is a major concern of groups opposing the FDA approval process.
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The fish is engineered to grow at twice the rate of unmodified salmon.
A survey by the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance showed there is opposition to genetically modified salmon in the marketplace. Executive director Ruth Salmon worries sales of Canadian farmed salmon could be hurt if Aqua Bounty fish is approved, and the FDA doesn't demand it be clearly labelled a genetically modified product.
"Consumers will wonder what they're eating," Salmon said. "Anytime you introduce a new product there's potential confusion."
But if the fish is approved, labels will almost certainly not be required.
The FDA has already established in court that the fact a food has been genetically modified isn't enough to warrant labelling. Aqua Bounty salmon would only require a special label if it were significantly different from other Atlantic salmon, and the FDA review has already found it's not. The faster-growing salmon has similar vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and protein.
That leaves voluntary labelling, and Aqua Bounty CEO Ronald Stotish sees no need for that.
"Many people would see this as a warning," Stotish said. "It's an interesting intellectual discussion, because if it's the same, why distinguish it? And if you distinguish it when it is, in fact, the same you create the appearance that there may be some difference. So it becomes a circular argument."
If Aqua Bounty salmon is approved by the FDA it will be the first genetically engineered food animal on the market.
Labelling is one of the issues being tackled at FDA public hearings on Aqua Bounty that get underway this Sunday in Maryland.