No Label: Canada's invisible genetically modified salmon

Domestically-produced GE salmon will be ready for harvest in 2021, and sold unlabelled to Canadians

by Lucy Sharrat

More genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Atlantic salmon will soon be on the market in Canada. This is because the first ever Canadian-produced GM salmon will be ready for harvest in early January 2021, and the first US-produced GM salmon is being harvested right about now. The GM salmon will be sold unlabelled in Canada.

Small shipments of GM salmon have been sold into Canada periodically since the summer of 2017, but all of this salmon was produced at a small pilot plant on-land in Panama. It could not be tracked in the marketplace but was eaten, invisible to the Canadian public.

The Panama plant is now closed and replaced with two new on-land commercial-scale fish farms, one in Prince Edward Island and one in Indiana, US. This is the start of what the GM salmon company AquaBounty hopes is their global expansion of GM fish factories, and their promotion of GM salmon as local, sustainable fish.

Selling an invisible product

In the US, the genetically modified salmon will now be labelled as “bioengineered,” leaving Canadians as the only people in the world eating GM fish with no way of identifying where it is on the market. In a presentation to the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity on May 27, 2020, AquaBounty’s CEO, Sylvia Wulf, said, “Our plan is to follow the guidelines in Canada which is we don’t have to label, and the reality is that I think the US is backwards.”

AquaBounty does not advertise to Canadian consumers. Its customers are not the consumers who order salmon at restaurants or buy salmon fillets for dinner, but the food service companies who buy farmed salmon from seafood brokers to sell to restaurants, hotels, and catering companies.

The fish of the future

AquaBounty is promoting their GM salmon as the future of on-land fish farming. The Atlantic salmon is genetically engineered to grow faster and is promoted as a way to increase the financial viability of land-based containment, bringing the salmon to market quicker and therefore more cheaply. GM salmon is currently restricted to on-land production to minimize the risk of escape into the wild. However, the company has plans to expand production around the world and AquaBounty has speculated on a possible future for ocean farming (“Innovation is Critical for Our Planet,” Innovature. July 17, 2019).

The company is set to announce the location of their third GM fish factory, naming Ontario as well as Israel and some land-locked US states as possible sites. It says it will build a “farm” each year. Wulf told the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, “We think that Canada is an excellent place to put one of our farms in the near future.” Wherever the next GM fish factory is constructed, all genetically modified salmon eggs will come from PEI, making Canada a global centre of GM fish production.

FMI see Lucy Sharrat is the coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), which brings together 16 groups to research, monitor, and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. CBAN is a project on MakeWay’s shared platform.

Watershed Sentinel Oct Nov 2020 CoverThis article appears in our October-November 2020 issue.

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