The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the controversial genetically-modified AquaBounty salmon for human consumption on Thursday.
The approval came just two days after two Canadian environmental groups challenged the Canadian government in court over its approval of an application to manufacture genetically-modified salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island.
A lawyer for Ecojustice, representing the Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society in their lawsuit, said the FDA approval wouldn’t have any impact on its case before the court.
“It doesn’t really impact our court case at all,” said Ecojustice’s Scott McAnsh. “We’ve made our submission. The judge has reserved his decision and will decide it in due course. Anything that happens now doesn’t really change what the submission was there.”
The FDA approval allows for the production, sale and consumption of the AquAdvantage salmon. The GM salmon is a triploid fish, containing three sets of chromosomes in the cells of its body, instead of the more common two.
Triploidy is a method used to prevent sexual maturity in finfish and shellfish in order to prevent sexual maturation and makes the animals functionally sterile. This not only helps to stop them from breeding with other fish, but redirects energy to growth, instead of reproductive development.
AquAdvantage salmon designed to grow faster to reach market sooner
The AquAdvantage fish is an Atlantic salmon containing the genes of chinook salmon as well as that of a bottom-dwelling fish called the ocean pout. The particular combination of genetics is designed to make the AquaBounty fish grow faster than conventional salmon in order to reach the market sooner.
The FDA will not require mandatory labeling showing that the fish is genetically modified. In a fact sheet, the agency said that it had determined that the food from the AquAdvantage salmon is as safe and nutritious as that from non-GE Atlantic salmon.
The agency said it wouldn’t speculate whether more producers of genetically engineered animals would submit applications based on the AquaBounty approval and would not comment on whether other companies have submitted such applications.
The FDA said it reviews each application on a case-by-case basis and on its own merits to determine whether the product is effective, safe for the animal, and in the case of applications for GE food animals, safe for humans and animals to eat.
Court case over risk of the GM salmon escaping and interbreeding with Atlantic salmon
McAnsh said Ecojustice’s court submission Tuesday was on the risk of the salmon escaping from hatchery facilities. “The FDA approval in some senses makes our concerns more pressing.”
Ecojustice was challenging the federal Environment Minister’s decision, which McAnsh said essentially approved a number of facilities across Canada, when AquaBounty had in fact only applied for one in P.E.I. “That becomes more important because they’re potentially going to ramp up their business with this FDA approval.”
The concern on the part of the environmental groups’ part is that while the P.E.I. facility might be set up to contain the GM salmon, it doesn’t necessarily mean newer facilities would be as well.
“In our opinion, you can’t say what’s adequate without looking at it,” said McAnsh. “But what we’re asking the court to do is send the matter back to the minister to consider the facts again and make a legally compliant, scientific, risk-based decision.”
The agency said in the “highly unlikely event that any salmon escaped” from the P.E. I. facility, potential for the genetically-modified salmon's survival would be extremely low.
The water near the facility is too salty for the young fish to survive, the agency noted, and larger, older fish would have to penetrate a series barriers and screens with openings roughly 10 to 100 times narrower than the fish is wide.
The FDA said even if the fish did escape from the P.E.I. facility, they wouldn’t survive long in the cold environment.