Canadians eating genetically modified salmon

Canadians eating genetically modified salmon

By Erin Klassen

The first genetically engineered salmon has been on the Canadian market for 6 months and consumers knew nothing about this because Canada has no legal requirements for food labeling of fish.

In early August, American company AquaBounty Technologies revealed that it's sold more than 5 tonnes of GM salmon in Canada since it was approved for sale in May 2016. It's the first time genetically modified animal products have been sold to the public anywhere. (

Is it an advantage, really?

AquaAdvantage, is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook Salmon (a Pacific Ocean based species). In the wild, salmon produce the hormone only when the conditions are right for rapid growth. In the AquaAdvantage salmon, a regulatory switch from an ocean pout gene makes the fish produce growth hormone all the time, so the AquaAdvantage salmon grow rapidly throughout the year. These fish, which are raised in fish farms, grow four to six times faster than other Atlantic salmon early in life, said Hallerman, and they reach market weight twice as fast. This shortens the total production time from three years to a year and a half and reduces the amount of feed they consume by 10 per cent. (

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved the product in May of 2016. Sales began in Canada in 2017, said Conley. Because Health Canada concluded that these salmon are “as safe and nutritious for humans and livestock as conventional salmon,” labelling was optional and left up to the discretion of the grocers who distributed the filets. (

The AquaAdvantage salmon fillets are seemingly indistinguishable from those cut from regular salmon so this can be tricky for the shopper.

A recent Angus Reid poll released suggests fewer than two in five Canadians say GMO is safe to eat, and 83 per cent think there should be some kind of mandatory label for genetically modified food at the grocery store. Several major grocery chains confirmed they do not carry the GM fish product, including Loblaw's, Metro, Sobey's, Costco, IGA and Wal-Mart.(

Lucy Sharratt, a coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, is critical of the lack of transparency, leaving Canadians to eat a GM product without them knowing. "We are troubled that this precedent-setting technology and product has entered the market at this time and in this way where the reality is Canadians who've walked into their grocery store or restaurant and bought Atlantic salmon will have eaten it unknowingly — and some Canadians may want the choice not to." (

She notes after 20 years of polling there are many concerns Canadians have, "including ethical and religious concerns over the environmental risks and corporate control." Sharratt questions the assurance that there are no health concerns when eating genetically modified salmon because Health Canada does not do its own testing. "Our government doesn't test these genetically modified foods. Instead the government relies on data information that's provided by the company," she explains to Williams. "So it's not just in the grocery store that there's no transparency around genetically modified foods. At almost every step in the regulation of these products, there is not transparency. The information is kept confidential," she says. "And so we really do have many questions about what kind of information companies are producing to demonstrate safety." (

"Our government doesn't test these genetically modified foods. Instead the government relies on data information that's provided by the company,” says Sharrat.

Provincial approval has been granted to Aquabounty to grow fish to market size in Bay Fortune, P.E.I. However that plant still requires federal approval.

In a letter to a group of environmental lobby groups, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says any plan by AquaBounty Technologies to grow its AquAdvantage salmon at Rollo Bay, P.E.I., would be subject to strict requirements. "Should AquaBounty wish to manufacture or grow out the AquAdvantage salmon at this site, a new notification will be required pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999," McKenna wrote. (

Eric Hallerman, an expert in fisheries and fish genetics at Virginia Tech who is not affiliated with the company, predicts that we will see many more genetically modified fish and other animals on shelves around the world in the future. (

Grocery shoppers may be seeing more of these types of genetically altered products on store shelves but knowing what they are purchasing may still smell a bit fishy to some.

Next Story
Share it
To Top