The line between genetically engineered fodder and natural food is once again being blurred thanks to the Canadian government. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency rammed through approval of genetically modified salmon without public consultation or assessment of the potential effects on natural fish being affected by GM fish escaping into the wild or its impact of human health. And, once again, the transgenic fish that are in our grocery stores need no labelling. Why? The GMO fish mongers know consumers won’t buy it. Polls show that the vast majority of Canadians (88%) want mandatory labeling of all genetically modified foods and 45% say they won’t eat GMO salmon.
Health Canada, just like its counterpart the FDA in the U.S., caved-in to pressure from a powerful international biotech lobby, instead of listening to the concerns of independent science. Instead the department released an announcement that after "thorough and rigorous scientific reviews” of AquaAdvantage's genetically modified salmon, the transgenic fish is “as safe and nutritious for humans and livestock as conventional salmon.”
Aside from lumping humans and livestock into one category, this sound bite rings hallow when examined closely. Wild salmon are high in essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Not so with GE fish. Eric Hoffman, Friends of the Earth, U.S., noted that the insertion of ocean-pout DNA into Chinook salmon causes the production of growth hormone year-around. No long-term safety tests were conducted to determine if there would be potential negative consequences on public health or on heritage salmon should this genetic aberration escape into the wild, which they did in August, 2017.
Both the FDA and Health Canada ignored warnings from Canadian government research scientists (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Office of Aquatic Biotechnology, Draft Risk Review, 2013). These scientists found significant problems with the GE fish, including greater susceptibility to disease (which may require the use of potent antibiotics), and widely inconsistent growth rates. It was also noted that the genetically engineered fish may produce a hormone that can increase cancer risk in humans if they consume the transgenic fish.
So far, Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans are fighting approval of the commercial production of GM fish eggs in court, both in Canada and the US, arguing Health Canada and CFIA failed to meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. And about 60 US-based grocers and retailers, including Costco, Whole Foods and Red Lobster, have pledged not to sell the fish in their stores.
But it’s up to Canadian consumers to build on the momentum both at the check out counter and at the ballot box.