British Columbia

Groups challenge federal approval of genetically modified salmon in court

Environmental groups — including B.C.'s Living Oceans Society — are heading to court today to try and overturn a ruling that upheld the federal approval of the development of genetically modified salmon.

In Dec. 2015, Federal Court upheld government approval of GM salmon egg development in P.E.I.

AquaBounty — a biotechnology company specializing in genetically modified fish — won approval from the federal government to grow genetically modified salmon eggs at a P.E.I. facility. AquaBounty says salmon from its genetically-modified eggs grow at twice the rate of regular salmon. (AquaBounty Technologies)

Environmental groups head to court today to challenge a Federal Court ruling which upheld the government's earlier approval of genetically modified salmon.

"This whole approval process has taken place behind doors. There's been no engagement of Canadians on the subject should we genetically modifying animals for food'," argued Karen Wristen, of B.C.'s Living Oceans Society, one of the groups involved in the challenge.

In 2013, Environment Canada approved the production of genetically modified salmon eggs by the biotechnology company AquaBounty in a facility in P.E.I.

AquaBounty claims its genetically modified Atlantic salmon egg — which uses genes from the eel-like ocean pout  — allows the fish to grow twice as fast.

The company said its plan was to produce the eggs in P.E.I. and export them to an operation in Panama to be grown into market-size fish.

In November 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the fish for sale as food, with Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency granting similar approval in May 2016.

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In the meantime, Canadian environmental groups decried the decision and sued the government, alleging it did not follow its own rules and failed to obtain and assess the information required by the federal Environmental Protection Act.

In December 2015, a federal court judge rejected this initial challenge, and upheld the government's approval.

That's the decision that is being appealed today.

Environmental concerns

Among Wristen's concerns is what would happen if genetically modified salmon escape and start breeding with wild salmon.

"That would result in genetic pollution essentially of the remaining wild salmon in P.E.I. and there aren't that many left," she claimed.

Ultimately she said she would like to see the decision go back for reconsideration to the government, and have broader public consultation about genetic modification in food animals.

She added she hoped the court would clarify the government's responsibility in complying with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Groups head to court to overturn federal approval of GM salmon


  • A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the genetic modification allowed the fish to grow twice as large. The genetic modification actually allows the fish to grow twice as fast.
    Oct 20, 2016 6:54 AM PT