Public needs more information on GM salmon, says advocates

Ryan Ross
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Lucy Sharratt, from left, with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, talks with Eric Hoffman, with Friends of the Earth U.S. and Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst with the U.S.-based Centre for Food Safety, at the AquaBounty facility in Fortune. They were there for a news conference to voice concerns about the company's genetically modified salmon.

FORTUNE - A company that's producing genetically modified salmon isn't giving the public enough information about them, says a spokesman for a food safety group.

Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst with the U.S. based Centre for Food Safety, said there are concerns about the health of salmon at AquaBounty, but the company isn't providing the public with information it.

"It is not something that everybody should want on their table, at least with this scant bit of data," he said.

Hanson was at the AquaBounty facility in Bay Fortune Monday for a news conference to talk about concerns surrounding the modified salmon in advance of a public forum later that night.

Hanson said at the forum that the normally rigorous Food and Drug Administration seems to be bending rules towards leniency when it comes to genetically modified animals for human consumption.

Everyone seems to acknowledge that studies of the Aqua Bounty salmon use such small sample sizes that the studies are useless. Rather than order new, improved studies, the approval process is proceeding right along, said Hanson.

As that approval process continues in the United States, P.E.I. is being cited and will become known internationally as the centre of one of the world's first genetically modified animals approved for food, warned forum moderator Sharon Labchuk.

"The trouble is, nobody wants GM food," said Labchuk.

It will be a horrible public relations issue, she said.

AquaBounty responded to the criticism levelled against it through a news release that addressed what it called myths about the genetically modified salmon.

The company said it is not shipping fish from one country to another for sale to consumers, but plans instead to sell sterile eggs to fish farmers who will be required to grow them in secure inland facilities.

AquAdvantage salmon, which is the company's genetically modified fish, are undergoing a review with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The salmon are modified to grow faster than wild Atlantic salmon and the company uses a facility in Panama to grow the salmon while the approval process is underway.

Eric Hoffman with Friends of the Earth U.S. was also at the news conference and said the biggest environmental concern is with the potential escape of the modified salmon.

"We're concerned for the fate of wild salmon populations if the fish were to escape," he said.

"It is not something that everybody should want on their table, at least with this scant bit of data," Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst with the U.S.-based Centre for Food Safety

Breeding stock produce the eggs and AquaBounty says it uses a method called "pressure shock" to sterilize the salmon eggs so they can't reproduce.

Lucy Sharratt with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network said she was at the news conference because she thought it was important to talk to Islanders about the issue because the provincial government has no say in the final decision about the fish.

"There's not consultation with P.E.I. residents or with the government before our federal government, Environment Canada approves the production of the genetically modified salmon eggs," she said.

While the group planned to host a public forum, the P.E.I. BioAlliance responded by issuing a statement from its executive director Rory Francis.

Francis said new technologies will be needed to provide affordable, high-quality food without increasing the environmental footprint of food production and it's important to have open discussions about new technology.

"We trust that rigorous, scientifically based assessment of new products will result in decisions that are in the public interest," he said.

Hanson said many biotechnology companies are excited by what they are doing and willing share all the data and research they are doing and welcome debate.

Aqua Bounty on the other hand reveals little and seems not to care about such things as physical containment to keep the chemicals and antibiotic or even fish out of the surrounding natural environment.

About 60 people attended the public forum at the Rodd Charlottetown hotel Monday evening. Participants observed that not a single politician was at the meeting, but the Liberal caucus was meeting the same evening in a different part of hotel.

Most of the people who took a turn at the microphone were opposed to genetically modified salmon, but Larry Hammell, Director of the Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences at the Atlantic Veterinary College did not like what he was hearing.

"I appreciate you bringing these issues to everybody," he said. "I hear presented a lot of facts that took a lot of liberties. There is a grain of truth in a lot of (the facts) but then they are expanded to make us fearful."

He said that allegations of conspiracy flavours much of the discussion.

Organizations: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Friends of the Earth, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network Environment Canada

Geographic location: U.S., Bay Fortune, Charlottetown Panama

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Recent comments

  • seakat
    October 26, 2011 - 18:37

    From a Rodale article: "These fish are also less healthy than wild Alaskan salmon or even farmed Atlantic salmon. The few studies that have been done on these genetically engineered fish have shown that they contain lower levels of heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than either form of regular salmon. These fish are also notably deficient in certain vitamins, O'Neil adds. There's also a great deal of concern that genetically modifying salmon could increase the incidence of seafood allergies among the public."

  • Captain Canuck
    October 26, 2011 - 15:32

    to - GARTH STAPLES. I thought you were much more informed than that. By agreeing (Which is fine) you show that you don't know what hybrid is. Hybrid is not an introduction from one species to another. It is simply taking two parents in a species, each with features you like and hoping that the offspring contains both. GM, however like what MONSANTO does with CANOLA here on PEI is (FOR EXAMPLE) to take GENES from an INSECT like a spider and splice them with CANOLA and force our farmers to pay royalties if their canola gets cross-pollinated and ends up with MONSANTO-patented genes by this natural hybridization from their Frankenfood to ours.

  • HaveYouNoticed
    October 25, 2011 - 11:29

    Have you ever noticed that those who speak out against GM foods, for the environment, against pesticides, for organics, etc. are the highly educated people? They're the people who study hard and read and collect boring things like data. Shouldn't that tell you something?

  • Observer
    October 25, 2011 - 10:07

    Virtually any crop, including the organic species in North America are genetically modified. Wake up and smell the coffee... Unmodified food products are not sufficient to sustain worldwide population growth. Present your arguments to people in Africa who are dying from starvation and malnutrition...

    • vonlevander
      October 25, 2011 - 10:59

      Whether or not something is currently done isn't relevant to how much we want it to be done. And starving people in Africa? Tragic, but it has nothing to do with this particular situation. It's funny how people who respond with massive generalizations always seem to say either "What does the rest of the world have to do with us?" or "You should be thinking about the rest of the world", whichever suits best.

    • Freeman Dryden
      October 26, 2011 - 12:32

      What CRAP! While increasing numbers of mega-crops are GM'd (and this because of horrendous pressure from the agrichem cabal) with the exception of wheat, corn, and soy crops MOST agricultural crops are NOT and never have been Genetically Engineered. BTW, the people «dying of starvation» are NOT dying for lack of FrankenFoods but because the world agrichem cabal REQUIRES them to starve in order to support their obscene profits. STANDARD CROPS, sustainably grown without interference from political and monetary profiteers can and will feed everyone once these monetary and political predators are eliminated!

    • captain canuck
      October 27, 2011 - 07:14

      OBSERVER, unfortunately the starving in Africa wouldn't benefit from an increase in food production. The world already has too much food. The problem in Africa is getting food to the starving through the local political scene. This means wars, gangs and corruption. For example, in Darfour there is more than enough aid being sent in food, money and medecin. The aid workers must suffer the wars and fight to keep alive while trying to help everyone at once.

  • SG
    October 25, 2011 - 09:30

    Again I'll ask, if these Salmon are so safe for human consumpion why can't Aqua Bounty label them as Genetically Produced Salmon? Why do we as consumers not have the right to make an informed choice on what foods we wish to purchase and eat? Why can our Government not ensure we have that right? Jobs and Dollars are not the most important issue or priority for me. My first Priority is Health - being able to purchase and consume Healthy Foods, having safe, clean, water to drink and air to breathe. Money does not buy everything. Jobs nor money will be of any benefit if we dont' have a healthy environment to live in with a healthy population that can benefit from job opportunities. AquaBounty states our natural salmon are safe and won't be affected by genetically modified salmon. However an Oil Company assured Louisanna there was no danger of an oil spill and their drilling would not have any negative affects on their surroundings or endanger their natural environment. The world watched as fire balls soared into the sky while drilling was taking place and birds and wildlife were plucked from the water covered in oil. Even when we do our very best to protect our environment mistakes can happen.

  • Student
    October 25, 2011 - 08:16

    These GM salmon arent as bad as people think they arent really hiding anything. I was a student at UNB and we did research on these salmon and there was nothing crazy wrong with them. They are the perfect specimen to study because the ones we used the reproductive parts that would make dissections difficult were under developed another reason why the spreading of the genes of these fish is not a huge worry because they arent meant to reproduce with wild populations. Maybe if we on pei were a little nicer to our environment they we would need to worry about altering organisms for optimal growth here.

  • Eastern Kings
    October 25, 2011 - 07:28

    "Aqua Bounty on the other hand reveals little and seems not to care about such things as physical containment to keep the chemicals and antibiotic or even fish out of the surrounding natural environment." I expect objective arguments from The Guardian. This isn't one, it's fear-mongering BS.

  • GM
    October 25, 2011 - 07:20

    no body wants GM food says Labchuck. Has she ever eaten a hybrid tomato? Strawberry? anything? They're all GM. Would she feel this way if the modification could immunize against AIDs or prevent cancer?

    • Garth Staples
      October 25, 2011 - 08:13

      Well said.

    • Vonlevander
      October 25, 2011 - 09:12

      Poorly said. There’s a big difference between a hybrid tomato, which is a cross breed of different tomatoes, and a GM tomato, which has had its genetic makeup artificially altered by the introduction of something foreign, like pesticides. And the issue here is food, not cures for hypothetical fatal diseases. One thing politicians know about the public is that they’re easily distracted. So while people focus on these kinds of irrelevant tangents, the government will carry on turning the province into an island dominated by potato plants, GMO plants, undrinkable water, and highways. If people aren’t worried about what the government is doing to this province, they should be

    • Ken Dresen
      October 26, 2011 - 15:48

      @GM. Like many on this page you confuse hybridization, which involves crossing between populations, breeds or cultivars within a single species, with genetic modification, which is is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology, involving the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest. As a post previous to your own has already noted, for your benefit; "with the exception of wheat, corn, and soy crops MOST agricultural crops are NOT and never have been Genetically Engineered." Personally I have no desire to eat genetically modified organisms, and I resent our government refusing to have them labelled, although that is the wish of the majority of Canadians.

    October 25, 2011 - 07:09

    I strongly suggest people learn to grow and raise their own food. The food industry is very quickly being taken over by a few companies and this is just another step in that direction. Those who are taking the time to educate themselves about the food industry are discovering a shocking eye-opening. You can claim that remarks like this are just the extremists speaking but I assure you, I am no extremist and until you do your own investigating...

  • Mad as hell
    October 25, 2011 - 04:58

    This might not be the best way to improve the gene pool on PEI...

    October 24, 2011 - 23:55

    Agree with "READ CURRENT EVENTS" and besides, Sharon Labchuk is a 'prophet' for our times here in PEI, she needs to be more closely listened-to. Anyone with common sense will usually agree with her views on our environment, and this monsanto business is just that, 'business and profit' -- nothing for healthful living, nothing, only chaos in the food chain.

  • read current events
    October 24, 2011 - 21:20

    The challenge for Franken Food developers is that they really have no interest other than patenting life forms which they develop and own solely for profit. These companies all want to be the next Monsanto whereby they profit every time someone eats. This is not about feeding the masses, it is entirely about constant streams of profit into the coffers of greedy selfish corporate pigs like Monsanto. ....... India you should know threw all these companies out of the country. Strong scientific proof was presented to show essentially Monsanto is full of crap and India told them to get out and take all their patented life forms with them. Canada should do the same, the sooner the better. Greed and profits have stripped us of many industries and free trade has destroyed many ways of life, particularly in PEI............... but Islanders vote for common thieves and we have all our seats federally and provincially controlled by other greedy pigs who deceive us and enrich themselves.