By Michelle Schoffro Cook
While Canadians were preoccupied with Senate scandals and Rob Ford’s latest debacle, Environment Canada quietly approved genetically-modified (GM) salmon eggs and salmon for farming off the country’s coast.
Critics worry that insufficient testing has been done on the “frankenfish” that may escape fish farms and endanger wild Atlantic salmon worldwide.
The decision announced by Environment Canada on Monday leaves many people wondering whether Environment Canada—Canada’s primary governmental department charged with working to preserve and protect the natural environment—is performing its duties to Canadians. The government agency claims in the country’s national newspaper that the salmon eggs are not harmful to the environment or human health when they are produced and grown in contained facilities. Yet Environment Canada’s mandate does not include validating the health and safety of potential foods so it is questionable whether any testing on human health has actually occurred.
Environment Canada’s decision came on the heels of American corporation’s Aquabounty Technologies application to sell the genetically-modified salmon in the country. To develop the GM salmon, Aquabounty mixed chinook salmon eggs with an eel-type fish called “ocean pout” that reportedly makes the fish grow twice as quickly as wild salmon.
News sources indicate that Health Canada has yet to approve the GM salmon. The company also awaits approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration before the salmon eggs and salmon will be sold.
While Environment Canada attempts to assure the public of the alleged safety of GM salmon eggs and salmon, breaches of fish farming containers can and do occur, making it possible that the GM eggs and wild salmon could mix with uncertain environmental or health consequences. With the addition of altered genes known as “trans genes” found in the fish eggs and without long-term environmental tests there is no way to know what would happen to wild salmon should the varieties mix.
In the newspaper article, Aquabounty’s Chief Executive Officer Ron Stotish said: ”At the moment, everything is still as it was. It’s only the status of the facility moving from research and development to essentially a facility that could be used for commercial purposes,” which appears to suggest that the GM salmon eggs have already been grown off Canada’s east coast as part of its “research and development.”
Experts at the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network are cited as being alarmed at Environment Canada’s decision which purportedly was made without public consultation and could set a precedent for the GM fish to be sold as food. A quick search on Environment Canada’s own website fails to present such critical information to the public.
If you’re alarmed by Environment Canada’s recent decision, voice your opinion to Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq at [email protected].
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