Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Genetically modified salmon decision cloaked in secrecy

March 10, 2014

In November 2013 the Government of Canada approved the manufacture of what is poised to be the world's first genetically modified food animal—in complete secrecy. We're taking the government to court to stop them and we need your help.

The government made its decision with no public debate whatsoever. In fact, it refused to disclose the fact that it was even considering this move. We only found out about it because of the diligence of our lawyers at Ecojustice, who found a legally required notice published in the Canada Gazette reporting that the decision had been made.

AquaBounty Canada Inc. have implanted a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and a genetic 'switch' from ocean pout into the eggs of Atlantic salmon to create a fish that (it claims) grows at twice the rate of wild Atlantic salmon. AquaBounty plans to grow genetically modified salmon eggs at its facility in Bay Fortune, P.E.I. and then transport them to Panama, where they will grow to full size and be processed as "table-ready" fish. The approval could also allow growout at other approved facilities in Canada.

The AquaBounty salmon will be the world's first genetically modified food animal as soon as it is approved for market anywhere in the world. Both Health Canada and the U.S.FDA are currently assessing GM salmon for human consumption. Because Canada has no labelling laws, this GM product will be indistinguishable from other salmon on the supermarket shelf.

Frankenfish. Cartoon by Steve Greenberg,, used here with artist's permission.

Reproduction with wild salmon 'probable'

It is chilling to read the summary of the government's risk assessment for GM salmon—the only document concerning the risk that it has made public. It acknowledges that AquaBounty's procedures to ensure their salmon cannot reproduce are not always effective. If fertile GM salmon escape, the government's risk analysis says it is highly probable that they could reproduce with wild or other escaped GM fish.

Worse, if salmon farmers really can bring GM salmon to market in half the time of a normal fish, there is no question that they will create huge pressure to approve it for production throughout the world. That will mean additional risk of escapes during transportation and growout, with unknown consequences for wild fish everywhere.

Decisions shrouded in secrecy

Our lawsuit, filed in December, spurred the government to action. Long after it should have done so, Health Canada posted a notice in the Canada Gazette indicating that it had waived the requirement for Aquabounty to file evidence with them concerning the potential for its GM salmon to become invasive, should it escape containment. Along with this notice, some 500 additional notices of waiver were filed, indicating that the government has been waiving compliance with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in secret since 2008. The waivers are so vaguely worded that it is difficult to assess the nature of the chemicals and organisms described, but it appears likely that one of them is the "Enviropig".

Will you please help us fund our legal challenge on Indigogo? The secrecy just has to end: at the very least, we are entitled to debate the wisdom of producing genetically modified food animals and test the assessment of the risk that they will be released into the wild.