GE fish coming soon to a supermarket near you?

Feature story - October 8, 2010
On 21 September 2010, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nearly approved Genetically Engineered (GE) salmon for human consumption. AquaBounty Technologies, Inc., a biotech company with a facility on Prince Edward Island, would like to get permission to sell GE salmon to US consumers.

AquaBounty’s plan is to produce GE salmon eggs in PEI; raise them in Panama and then sell GE salmon to US consumers. It would only be a matter of time before this GE salmon found its way to Canadian supermarkets.

GE salmon is not the only GE fish in development, but it is the one nearest to commercialization.

GE fish without borders

The Atlantic salmon of AquaBounty Technologies is genetically modified with a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon and an antifreeze gene from an ocean pout. As a result, the GE salmon grows faster.

Concerns over the human welfare and environmental impact of intensive fish farming include:

  • Frequent escape of fish from aquaculture facilities leading to interbreeding or displacing of native fish populations;
  • High potential for ecological disturbance if GE fish escape from either land-based or container aquaculture facilities;
  • Competition from fast-growing GE fish for food for wild fish;
  • Disruption of aquatic food webs and ecosystems;
  • Lack of certainty that sterilization of GE fish will be 100 per cent effective in preventing cross-breeding with wild fish, contrary to industry claims.

GE fish would almost certainly find their way into aquatic ecosystems given the many examples already of ecological disasters resulting from invasive non-GE species:

Extinction of half of more than 400 species of fish in Lake Victoria, Uganda after the introduction of the Nile perch; the disappearance of vegetation and native fish in Everglades National Park after blue tilapia from aquaculture facilities became established; the spread of European zebra mussels into most freshwater habitats in eastern North America at a cost of billions for control and clean up.

GE salmon in Panama: environmental dumping

Canadian and US authorities – usually supportive of biotechnology - have not yet approved the growing of GE salmon. Many organizations have expressed deep concerns about the hazards of commercialization of GE fish including: the Royal Society of Canada, the US National Academy of Science, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization and the Swedish Fish Industry Association. All the credible scientific evidence leans toward extreme caution on the commercialization of GE fish.

AquaBounty’s plan to grow GE salmon in Panama appears to be a way to get around the concerns of US and Canadian scientists.

The company’s plan looks like environmental dumping on Panama with too many unanswered questions about why Panama, what type of facilities, what type of credible, independent monitoring, what risk of the need for large quantities of antibiotics to control fish diseases from overcrowding and what will be the food source given the collapse of ocean biodiversity. (It takes three to five kilos of fishmeal or more to produce a kilo of GE salmon.)

Greenpeace against GE fish

Greenpeace opposes the commercialization of GE fish because it is only a question of time before they escape and possible cause dramatic consequences. The international community must act responsibly and adopt a world ban at the upcoming meeting of the Protocol on Biosafety in Japan from the 11 to 15 October.

Greenpeace will attend the meeting, with Greenpeace Canada GE campaigner Eric Darier keeping a close watch, especially on the Canadian delegation with the objective of helping ensure that Canada doesn’t authorize the production or the export of GE salmon eggs.

Check our GMO Resources page for more on GE fish, including: a new briefing document on GE fish prepared for the biosafety meeting in Japan and a Greenpeace report on aquaculture.

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