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 of GM fish escaping into the wild. And, once the transgenic fish are in our grocery stores, no labelling will be required. Why? Advocates of GMO fodder 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 to pressure from a powerful international biotech lobby, instead of listening to the concerns of independent science making the announcement on May 19, 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 the insult of lumping humans and livestock into one category, the sound bite rings hallow when examined closely. Wild salmon are high in essential Omega-3 fatty acids, while avoiding environmental toxins. 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. To date, 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.
Further, 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.
According to AquaBounty, the Massachusetts-based biotech firm behind AquaAdvantage, the genetically modified fish will be in stores in about a year joining the GMO sweet corn which is already in the fresh produce aisle and the GMO potato which is slated for commercial release in the Fall of 2016. None of these transgenic foods require labelling.
But resistance is growing. The US Food and Drug Administration promised to bring in labelling guidelines after its approval of GM fish triggered a wave of public reaction in the fall. 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.
So far, 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. Email the Minister of Health today and contact your Member of Parliament to ask for mandatory labelling of all genetically engineered foods using your postal code at www.parl.gc.ca.