The Canadian government is receiving 10% royalties from sales of the world’s first genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) animal, a GM Atlantic salmon.
“We’re concerned that the government is responsible for regulating this GM fish and also has a stake in its success,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).
The royalties are part of a 2009 $2.8 million-dollar grant agreement between the company AquaBounty and the federal government Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The royalties will be paid to the Government of Canada until the grant amount is paid back. If the GM salmon is not a commercial success, there is no requirement for the company to repay the government funds.
“The GM fish was developed with public funds, but without public consultation, and it’s being sold without labels,” said Sharratt. “If Canadians unknowingly buy GM salmon, the government gets 10% of the profit.”
In 2016, Health Canada approved the GM fish for human consumption. In 2013, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change approved GM salmon production at Bay Fortune in Prince Edward Island (PEI) where GM salmon eggs are currently manufactured and then shipped to Panama for growing at a small pilot site.
The company AquaBounty must still seek approval from Environment and Climate Change Canada for commercial scale GM salmon production at their Rollo Bay facility in PEI, now under construction.
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, The Council of Canadians, Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society are calling on the government to halt any further assessments of the GM salmon until it takes steps to increase transparency in the regulatory process and marketplace, including by establishing mandatory labelling of GM foods.
“We’re concerned about the next steps for environmental assessment because future repayment of the federal funds partly relies on the government approving the company’s next GM fish plant,” said Mark Butler of Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia, referring to the planned Rollo Bay site in PEI. “In this case, increased sales mean increased production and increased risk to wild Atlantic salmon.”
In Canada, there are no public consultations before a new genetically modified food, crop or animal is approved and no mandatory labelling of GM foods. “At the very least, consumers should know when they buy salmon just what they’re getting,” said Karen Wristen of Living Oceans Society.
AquaBounty is a majority owned subsidiary of the US biotechnology company Intrexon.
Source: Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), www.cban.ca The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) brings together 16 groups to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. The Ecology Action Centre is an environmental charity based in Nova Scotia. Living Oceans Society has been a leader in the effort to protect Canada’s oceans since forming in 1998.