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.