CANADA AND US: Meet - and eat - the modified Atlantic salmon
Posted: May 20th, 2009 - 6:04pm
It looks like a normal Atlantic salmon, and the fish's creators say it tastes like one, too.
But this is no ordinary fish that Aqua Bounty Technologies has produced.
Tweaked with genetic material from chinook salmon and an eel-like creature called an ocean pout, it reaches market size twice as fast as normal Atlantic salmon, the company says. Aqua Bounty has spent more than a decade chasing U.S. regulatory approval, which Food and Drug Administration officials have reportedly said is coming "soon."
It would be a watershed moment - there are currently no genetically engineered animals approved for sale as food anywhere in the world - and opponents are predicting a wave of consumer outrage.
"We don't have that same level of negative reaction [as in Europe] at present but I suspect it will come up when food animals are approved," said Jeff Hutchings, a professor of biology at Dalhousie University and a member of the Royal Society of Canada's expert panel on biotechnology.
The Massachusetts-headquartered company, which has operations in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, has not applied for approval in Canada. But trade law could force Ottawa's hand following U.S. approval, making it irrelevant whether the Canadian consumer wants these fish or not.
Ottawa is clearly aware of the sensitivity of the issue. Briefing notes prepared recently for Fisheries Minister Gail Shea acknowledge that GE fish being approved in the United States could provoke trade issues and public concerns in Canada.
The document, obtained by researcher Ken Rubin under the Access to Information Act, notes that consumers might be concerned about Ottawa's ability to keep out these fish and warns the United States would probably press Canada to speed up its own approval.
"Should U.S. companies pursue the export of GE salmon products in the future, this issue could become a trade irritant," notes the document, prepared in the past few months.
The document also insists that U.S. approval "would not imply" approval in Canada, but several observers believe a challenge under current trade laws could produce just that result.
"It's the U.S. that will be approving this product and then it's the Canadian government that will be forced to act," said Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network in Ottawa. "I think that's what this company is counting on."