Island firm hopes to hit market 1st with GMO salmon

A P.E.I. aquaculture company is a step closer to getting its genetically modified salmon on the market.

A P.E.I. aquaculture company is a step closer to getting its genetically modified salmon on the market.

Aqua Bounty Farms in Fortune, in eastern P.E.I., has been waiting more than a decade for federal approval in the United States. If the company gets the nod from the Food and Drug Administration, its salmon will be the world's first on the market.

FDA officials visited P.E.I. last fall to get a first-hand look at the facility in Fortune. A spokesperson from FDA wouldn't tell CBC News much about the application, but when asked how long before the salmon might be approved, the answer was "soon."

The advantage Aqua Bounty's fish offers fish farmers is the speed with which it grows. It normally takes about three years to raise Atlantic salmon on a fish farm, but with the addition of a couple of genes from the cold-water Chinook salmon, Aqua Bounty's fish grow twice as fast. The breeder is hoping to sell its eggs and smolts to other fish farms in North America.

But before any genetically modified salmon reaches the dinner table in the U.S. market, it needs the stamp of approval from the FDA, something the company has been waiting for a long time. It first applied for approval 12 years ago, and began submitting documentation seven years ago.

Aqua Bounty CEO Ron Stotish told CBC News last week it is understandable the FDA wants to take its time.

"For an animal like ours, the environmental aspects are a concern to many people and that's a fair concern," said Stotish.

"We've done everything to mitigate those concerns, and we believe we're producing an animal that's safe to eat, safe for the environment."

The main concern with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they could escape into the wild and breed with wild populations. Stotish said that's why Aqua Bounty will only sell sterile salmon, and only females.

Stotish said he's eaten the GMO salmon.

"It's a very good fish. What most people realize when they actually see the fish, and have the opportunity to taste the fish, is it looks like a salmon, it behaves like a salmon, it is a salmon in every respect," he said.