Genetically modified fish in the works

AquaBounty plans to grow redesigned salmon in the Maritimes.

Get ready, mutant lovers! The production of the world’s first genetically modified food animal is waiting on Environment Canada’s approval of a GM fish hatchery in PEI.   The US company, AquaBounty, plans to grow redesigned Atlantic salmon eggs in PEI, then fly them to Panama where they would be raised and processed, eventually arriving in unsuspecting American bellies. (The US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require GM food to be labelled).

The designer salmon are engineered to grow twice as fast as regular salmon by combining growth genes from Chinook salmon and snippets of DNA from ocean pout, an eel-like creature, that keeps the growth switched-on continuously.  

Some policy critics want to kibosh the transgenic salmon---dubbed AquAdvantage® salmon, or in some circles “frankenfish”---saying there’s a risk that escaped GM fish could damage the global wild fish population.

“Atlantic Canada is a big decision maker globally right now,” says Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, who will be speaking at a public forum in Halifax next Wednesday. “The reason why its not happening in the US is so they can avoid a full environmental review. This way they’re splitting the process up between different countries.”

But according to documents obtained by the Ottawa *Citizen* earlier this week, Environment Canada isn’t positive it can protect Canadian wild fish stocks if they approve the hatchery.

Last week AquaBounty president Ronald Stotish responded to critics saying there’s nothing to fear, noting that his Panamanian farm is inland.

Sharratt explains that doesn’t eliminate the risk, saying there’s no regulation keeping the farms out of waterways in the future. And if AquaBounty expands to other countries such as Chile as planned, that’s certainly a possibility she says. “There’s no market for GM salmon. The introduction of it is too big of a risk.” ---Mairin Prentiss

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