The first genetically engineered animal destined for the plate has been approved for sale in Canada. An announcement from Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has revealed the results of a four-year study looking into the heath impacts of genetically engineered (GE) salmon, and have concluded by finding the fish as safe to eat as their conventionally bred counterparts. The announcement also says that, rather controversially, the GE salmon would not need to be labeled as such.
The fish are Atlantic salmon, but have been developed by AquaBounty to contain a growth hormone gene taken from Chinook salmon, and coupled with another gene taken from a species of fish called the ocean pout, which promotes a protein that prevents the fishes’ blood from freezing. When coupled together in the genetically modified Atlantic salmon, the genes allow the fish to reach maturity at an accelerated rate. Rather than taking three years, as is standard, the newly developed fish take just 16 to 18 months.
This, say the producers, means that the fish required less food to produce mature individuals. They claim that the engineered fish are one of the most efficient forms of animal protein, requiring 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of feed to make 1 kilogram of fish protein, compared to cattle which need 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of feed to produce just 1 kilogram of beef protein, or chickens which need 2 kilograms. Coupled with raising the fish on land and in a systems that apparently recycle 95 percent of the water, and they claim that the fish is the environmentally sound option for those concerned about the planet.
But many have raised serious concerns about the safety of the GE salmon, dubbed by others as “Frankenfish,” particularly regarding the risk they pose if they do manage to escape. If they make it into the wild, there is apprehension that the engineered salmon, which develop faster and grow bigger, will outcompete the native fish, and potentially disrupt the predator-prey balance of the natural marine ecosystem, having a wide range of environmental and ecological impacts. AquaBounty, however, say that by keeping them in land-based tanks and the fact that all fish will be sterile females, the risk of them causing harm are minimal.
Canada now joins the US with approving the AquAvantage GE salmon developed by AquaBounty. Last year the US Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to the fish, although since then there has been a dispute over the labeling of the product, delaying its sale to consumers. With these issues being complex and expected to take time, it could mean that Canada could become the first country in the world to stock genetically engineered salmon, although it too may have to address the issues of labeling.