U.S. company applies to Ottawa to sell genetically modified fish for you to eat

HALIFAX – A U.S. company hoping to produce genetically modified salmon eggs in Canada has also applied to the federal government to sell its fish for human consumption.

AquaBounty included a line about its application in a statement it released last Thursday, but company spokesman Dave Conley declined comment on the application.

“It is our policy not to discuss regulatory applications, just as it is the policy of the relevant government agencies not to discuss applications under review,” Conley said in an email.

Health Canada confirmed that the department is reviewing the safety of AquaBounty’s genetically modified salmon as a food source.

To date, it said, no genetically modified animal has received approval for human consumption in Canada.

“AquaBounty has made public that they have filed a submission with Health Canada to review the safety of the company’s GM salmon as a food source,” a department spokesperson said in an email. “That submission is currently being reviewed.”

The department couldn’t say how long its assessment would take, but added that any decision would be based on “rigorous scientific testing to ensure the health and safety of Canadian consumers.”

Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network said Tuesday that until the Boston-based company discussed its application in the statement last week, Health Canada had been unwilling to confirm the company was seeking approval for the fish to be eaten by Canadians.

“We see that the regulation of genetically modified products is happening in total secrecy where Canadians don’t even know that the process is underway,” Sharratt said in an interview.

“Here we have our regulatory department’s hiding under confidential business information when there’s absolutely no justification. … It should be public information.”

AquaBounty received approval last November from Environment Canada for the production of Atlantic salmon fish eggs at its hatchery in Prince Edward Island, which is the subject of a Federal Court case filed by three environmental groups. Sharratt’s group isn’t among them.

The environmental groups are challenging the department’s decision and seeking the release of documentation on how it was made. Environment Canada said Tuesday it has not yet filed a statement of defence in the case.

Meanwhile, AquaBounty is also waiting for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before its fish and eggs are available for sale. The company’s statement last Thursday said it had not been provided with any indication on the timing of that decision, but the board remained confident it would ultimately receive approval.

“The company currently expects to market AquAdvantage Salmon in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Chile and China following receipt of required regulatory approvals in the applicable jurisdiction,” the statement said.