Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced last week a decision to approve AquaBounty’s GMO salmon for human consumption. There are no plans to label the GMO salmon.
The day after the announcement, the Provincial Fisheries Minister of Nova Scotia said the fish would not be allowed to be farmed within the province.
The GMO salmon will be the first genetically engineered animal to be approved for consumption in Canada. There was no public consultation before the announcement, which was was particularly shocking to Ecology Action Centre, based in Halifax.
"There is no consultation with Canadians on it," Mark Butler, policy coordinator, told CBC. "It's just shocking to me and really upsetting. You know, if you wanted to build an addition on your house there would probably be more public consultation than the first GM food animal in the world to hit supermarket shelves in Canada."
This announcement was made in spite of a draft risk assessment released by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans that questioned the health and welfare of the salmon, noting that the genetically modified fish were “more susceptible to Aeromonas salmonicida, a type of disease-causing bacteria” than wild salmon.
Canadian scientific reviews released with the statement included a 2013 investigation by Fisheries and Oceans Canada that seemed to show no adverse health effects of consuming the salmon.
"GM foods are becoming more common every day and are part of the regular diets of Canadians," wrote Health Canada. "GM foods that have been approved by Health Canada have been consumed in Canada for many years, and are safe and nutritious."
Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAylay was adamant that he would consume the salmon when it became available. "Science has indicated it's safe,” he said. “I've eaten all kinds of cereals and stuff and I think I'm doing quite well."
The U.S. approved the GMO salmon last November also to public outcry; seventy-five percent of respondents to a New York Times poll said that they would not eat the salmon. Since then, nearly 80 major food retailers have committed to not sell AquaBounty's engineered fish, including Costco, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Albertsons, owner of Safeway. Many of these chains also have stores in Canada.
“Despite irresponsible approvals, the growing number of commitments from retailers demonstrates there is no market for GMO salmon,” said Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “Retailers and restaurants are wisely listening to their customers and rejecting GMO salmon.”
Walmart and Publix are two of the only retail grocers that have not yet made a public announcement with regards to GMO salmon.
AquaBounty has said that it will be at least a year before the salmon is available in stores.
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Fresh salmon image via Shutterstock