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Salmon becomes world’s first genetically-modified animal to enter food supply

  • US firm sells genetically engineered salmon to retailers in Canada.
  • First time a genetically modified animal has been sold for food on the open market.
  • Company claims GM fish can reach adult size in just 18 months.
12-month old  sisters. The larger salmon has the transgene. The smaller fish will eventually grow as large.
Aquabounty | Barrett & MacKay Photo
12-month old sisters. The larger salmon has the transgene. The smaller fish will eventually grow as large.

AquaBounty Technologies in Maynard, Massachusetts, has said it's sold about 5 tons of genetically-modified (GM) salmon fillets to unnamed customers in Canada.

These fish can reportedly grow twice as fast as conventionally-farmed Atlantic salmon, reaching adult size in some 18 months as compared to 30 months. AquaBounty has also claimed the salmon consume 20 to 25 percent less food per gram of new flesh.

"The sale and discussions with potential buyers clearly demonstrate that customers want our fish, and we look forward to increasing our production capacity to meet demand," said Ronald Stotish, chief executive of AquaBounty, in a statement Friday.

In 2015, AquaBounty salmon was approved in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it was reported to be the first genetically-modified animal to be approved for human consumption. But within weeks the FDA issued a ban on the import and sale of GM fish until labeling guidelines were established.

The firm's Atlantic salmon are modified with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon that makes them grow much faster than normal.

Genetically modified salmon are in tanks at the AquaBounty farm in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Barcroft USA | Getty Images
Genetically modified salmon are in tanks at the AquaBounty farm in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Two major grocery chains in Canada, IGA and Costco, have posted on their website that they do not intend to sell genetically-modified salmon.

And the Montreal-based environmentalist group GMO Vigilance has said on its website that the sale makes Canadians "guinea pigs" and the federal government should introduce labeling so consumers can identify it as a GM product.

"It's a world first … The first genetically modified animal is on the market, and consumers in Quebec and Canada will become the first guinea-pigs unknowingly. In the absence of mandatory labeling we still cannot make an informed choice," said Thibault Rehn, a coordinator at Vigilance GMO.

Some concerns have also been raised about cross breeding with wild fish but AquaBounty said its fish are sterile and are only being raised in landlocked tanks.