FDA approval of AquaBounty GMO salmon decried by environmentalists

Environmental and consumer groups in the United States and Canada are denouncing a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving genetically modified salmon as food.

Genetically modified salmon pose 'huge ecological and economic risk,' Ecology Action Centre says

AquaBounty says once harvested, its genetically modified salmon cannot be distinguished from natural salmon. (AquaBounty)

Environmental and consumer groups in the United States and Canada are denouncing a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving genetically modified salmon as food.

The eggs for the salmon, which grow at twice the rate of regular salmon, are raised in a facility in the eastern Prince Edward Island community of Bay Fortune and exported to Panama, where they're grown in above-ground tanks.

Sharon Labchuk of the group Islanders Say No to Frankenfish said P.E.I. has been thrust into a negative spotlight with the FDA's decision.

"The implications for P.E.I., we think, are fairly grave," Labchuk said. "We are at the centre of a global controversy and it's not going to do our reputation any good. We like to get our name out there, but this is not a good way to get our name out there."

The group will petition Island chefs not to serve or cook genetically modified salmon in their kitchens, Labchuk said: "We plan to keep the pressure up here in Prince Edward Island around informing the public about this decision."

Mark Butler of the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre reacts to the U.S. FDA approval of genetically-modified salmon as food. 1:35

'I was stunned'

Mark Butler, policy director of the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, said the approval happened behind closed doors with no public input.

AquaBounty's salmon are genetically modified to grow twice as fast as regular salmon. (AquaBounty Technologies)

"I was stunned, both because this was big news and also because it was two days after we were in Federal Court here in Ottawa arguing that the Canadian approval of the export of GM salmon eggs to Panama was unlawful," he said.

"It's a world-first and Canadians have not been consulted. We actually hope that the new government is going to take a different approach to this situation."

Butler said his group is concerned about the "irreversible" environmental risk of genetic contamination of wild Atlantic salmon should genetically modified salmon escape from production facilities.

"If this fish goes into commercial production, at some point it's going to happen," he said. "There's little to no economic benefit but a huge ecological and economic risk."

Butler said it will likely be three to six months for the court to issue its decision.

Sharon Labchuk of Islanders Say No to Frankenfish says with the recent USFDA approval of genetically-modified salmon as food puts a negative spotlight on P.E.I. 0:52

'Flawed and irresponsible'

Friends of the Earth, a U.S. environmental activist organization, called the move "flawed and irresponsible," in a news release Thursday.

The group said more than 60 grocery chains representing more than 9,000 stores in the U.S. have committed to not selling the salmon, adding 1.8 million people have sent letters to the FDA opposing the product's approval.

"It's clear that there is no place in the U.S. market for genetically engineered salmon," said Lisa Archer, the organization's food-and-technology program director. "People don't want to eat it and grocery stores are refusing to sell it."

The organization also wants to see the product labelled as a genetically modified organism.

FDA rules say mandatory labelling of AquaBounty salmon is not required because it is not materially different from other Atlantic salmon, but the FDA has included guidance documents should manufacturers opt for voluntary labelling. 

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