Canadian coalition demands government openness on GE salmon

Posted Dec 6, 2010 by Stephanie Dearing
A coalition consisting of 60 organizations representing Canadian ocean fisheries conservation, environmental and social justice groups are demanding the government of Canada be more open about the transgenic salmon called AquaAdvantage.
With the anticipation that the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) will make a decision on the transgenic salmon this month, the Canadian groups are feeling increasingly nervous about the potential of Canada becoming the breeding grounds for the transgenic salmon called AquaAdvantage. AquaBounty had revealed in September that it intended to produce its GE salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island. The eggs would then be shipped to Panama to grow out for US markets.
The groups specifically are wanting to know if the government is undertaking a risk assessment of the transgenic salmon, which was originally created in Canada. AquaBounty is currently waiting for permission to proceed from the USFDA said the Canadian Biotechnolgoy Action Network (CBAN) in a press release issued Monday.
After Canadians learned of AquaBounty's plans to produce the fish eggs in PEI, groups asked Environment Canada if it had received an application from AquaBounty. However, said CBAN, the groups were told such applications are "confidential." That policy of secrecy is bothering opponents of the transgenic fish. The Coordinator of Fundy Baykeepers said “We call on Environment Canada to reject any request for permission to commercially produce genetically engineered fish or fish eggs. Environment Canada needs to immediately inform Canadians if they have started an environmental assessment for GE salmon egg production. This secrecy is totally unacceptable.”
Normally, genetically engineered products intended for production and sale to Canadian consumers requires the products to undergo safety assessments for human health, the environment and animals, says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. However, groups like Living Oceans Society anticipate the Canadian risk assessment to be a short process, looking solely at whether the egg production facilities would present any environmental problems.
The USFDA has already been presented with an Environmental Risk Assessment for the GE salmon, prepared for the agency by AquaBounty as part of its application for approval to sell the salmon in the United States. In that assessment, AquaBounty said there is little risk to Canada should any of the eggs escape the facility because "... the environment surrounding the egg-production site in Canada is inhospitable to early-life stages of Atlantic salmon due to high salinity."
AquaBounty has promised that its salmon, which has been engineered through the addition of genes from the Chinook Salmon and the eel pout, will never escape from fish farms, an assurance that has not warmed the hearts of opponents. Speaking for BC's Living Oceans Society, Shauna McKinnon said “Farmed fish can and do escape. Genetically engineered salmon is an unacceptable and unnecessary threat to endangered wild Atlantic salmon. When GE fish escape into wild populations, studies indicate that wild fish are at risk of decline.” The added genes allow the Altantic salmon variety to grow faster than normal.
Council of Canadians PEI spokesperson, Leo Broderick said “We don’t want Prince Edward Island to be the global origin of dangerous GE salmon. It’s highly disturbing that we only found out about the company’s plans for Prince Edward Island from US consultations.”
Three groups in Prince Edward Island have written to Premier Robert Ghiz, asking him to "intervene and insist on disclosure from Environment Canada." If the biotech salmon is approved by the USFDA, it will be designated as an animal drug, said the groups. The groups go on to say "... neither the Government of PEl nor residents will be notified by Environment Canada if AquaBounty requests approval for production of GE salmon eggs on the Island. In fact Environment Canada refuses to disclose if this process has begun. Environment Canada will assess the environmental risks of producing the GE salmon eggs in 120 days in a completely secret process. Everything is confidential with Environment Canada. There is no public input, and no notification to the province or public disclosure. This process is flawed." A copy of the letter can be found on CBAN's website.
Canadian opponents would like to completely block the transgenic salmon from Canada, and 60 different groups have signed on to a statement of opposition thus far.