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.

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  • Genetic Engineering's Five Epic Fails

    Despite claims from the likes of Monsanto and the biotech industry that GE crops are an environmental panacea and will feed the world, two decades after they first went on sale the evidence suggests that GE’s key golden promises are beginning to look more like epic failures…

  • Claim: #1 GE crops will reduce herbicide use

    Then: Back in 1996, a Monsanto PR brochure entitled <em>Biotechnology: Solutions for tomorrow's world</em> dramatically claimed that its genetically engineered (GE) herbicide-tolerant crops would #1 "reduce total herbicide use" and #2 allow the use of "herbicides with preferred environmental characteristics." Now: <a href="http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/13Years20091126_FullReport.pdf" target="_hplink">We now know that GE herbicide-tolerant crops have not only led to an overall increase in herbicide use</a>, but that biotech giants like <a href="http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/superweeds/" target="_hplink">Monsanto and Dow</a> are developing new GE crops which are specifically designed to resist older, more toxic chemicals, such as 2,-4D and dicamba—the very herbicides that GE crops were supposed to eliminate. <strong> FAIL. TWICE.</strong>

  • Claim: #2 GE crops won't cause "superweeds"

    The dramatic rise in herbicide use over recent years can be directly attributed to the development of so-called "superweeds"—key pest plants that have developed resistance to the proprietary herbicides (glufosinate and glyphosate) used on GE herbicide-tolerant crops, requiring ever-stronger doses and different herbicides to control them. <a href="http://www.stratusresearch.com/blog/glyphosate-resistant-weeds-intensifying" target="_hplink">A survey from 2012 revealed that nearly half (49%) of all US farmers now have glyphosate-resistant weeds on their farms (up from 34% of farmers in 2011), with 61.2 million acres of cropland is infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds (almost doubling since 2010).</a> But for the biotech giants, this isn't a failure: it's a business opportunity. In 1997, Greenpeace wrote that GE crops "will probably hasten the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds…" and warned of the tacit intent of the biotech industry to establish a "genetic treadmill," where new genetic solutions will be introduced to replace GE crops that have become ineffective. <a href="http://newsroom.dowagro.com/press-release/dow-agrosciences-statement-about-usda-announcement-regarding-draft-environmental-impac" target="_hplink">In a recent press release</a>, Dow AgroChemicals stated that "an astonishing 86 percent of corn, soybean and cotton growers in the South have herbicide-resistant or hard-to-control weeds on their farms. The number of farmers impacted by tough weeds in the Midwest has climbed as well, and now tops 61 percent. Growers need new tools now to address this challenge." The new tools? <a href="http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/superweeds/" target="_hplink">New GE crops designed to resist older, more toxic chemicals, such as 2,-4D and dicamba. </a>Welcome to the genetic treadmill. FAIL. <em>Photo Credit: Arron Carlson</em>

  • Claim: #3 GE Contamination Isn't an Issue

    The biotech industry has long argued that farmers should have the right to choose GE crops; however, it's now clear that the real concern is whether American farmers and food businesses can ever avoid GE contamination of crops or even entire supply chains. In October 2013, news that an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-gunther/unauthorized-gm-wheat_b_3392319.html" target="_hplink">unauthorized GE wheat crop was found growing in a field in Oregon</a>—almost 10 years after it was supposed to have completely destroyed—sent shockwaves through the $8.1 billion U.S. wheat export industry, and blew a gaping hole in Monsanto's safety procedures and the regulatory systems that are supposed to protect us and the wider environment. Just weeks before, an export shipment of alfalfa from Washington State was rejected after it tested positive for contamination from GE herbicide-resistant alfalfa, <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/17/usa-alfalfa-gmo-idUSL2N0HD1SQ20130917" target="_hplink">as most other nations either prohibit or require the labeling of GE foods. </a> In 2010, researchers from the University of Arkansas found that GE canola was escaping the agricultural fields and growing wild, not only becoming a weed itself, but also passing on its <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/transgenic-canola-plants-break-free-10-08-06/" target="_hplink">GE herbicide-resistant genes to wild plant relatives.</a> These cases are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to GE contamination, and illustrate the dangers our laissez faire regulations will have on domestic and international food supply and trade. <strong>FAIL. </strong>

  • Claim: #4 GE Crops Will Feed the World Sustainably

    Monsanto's <em>1996 Environmental Annual Review</em> predicted that biotechnology "will help immensely in closing the gap between hungry people and adequate food supplies." Proponents often claim the technology results in higher yields, this is actually very misleading. <a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err162.aspx#.Uw2zFs6n_Qt" target="_hplink">A new USDA report</a> states that “GE seeds have not been shown to increase yield potentials of the varieties. In fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties if the varieties used… are not the highest yielding cultivars.” In other words, the biotech companies can only insert genes for crop protection traits—they are not genetically engineering increased yields, and are fundamentally reliant on conventional breeding strategies (see also <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/failure-to-yield.html" target="_hplink">Food and Water Watch's report, <em>Failure to Yield</em></a>). What's more, independent research—notably the<a href="http://www.unep.org/dewa/agassessment/reports/IAASTD/EN/Agriculture%20at%20a%20Crossroads_Synthesis%20Report%20%28English%29.pdf" target="_hplink"> International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development</a>, which was compiled by over 400 independent scientists and endorsed by 58 countries—also finds no evidence of a general, sustained or reliable yield increase from GE crops; no evidence of a sustained reduction in costs to farmers; no evidence of a sustainable reduction in pesticide use; and a real risk that the technology could undermine local practices that enhance food security and economic stability. More recently,<a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13593-013-0138-9" target="_hplink"> Danish researchers</a> concluded that the claim that GE crops "are necessary to feed the world is no more than a self-serving advertising campaign…" and was driven "primarily by corporate interests, supported by GMO researchers' career interests." <strong>FAIL.</strong>

  • Claim: #5 GE Crops: Cutting-Edge Science

    In 1996, the biotech company AgrEvo (later acquired by Bayer Crop Science in 2001) wrote that "crop protection cannot be further developed without using the possibilities offered by genetic engineering." GE has always been presented as cutting edge science, with opponents of the technology criticized as being "unscientific" or Luddites. However, GE is simply a technique, and newer, more sophisticated non-GE techniques are already available. <a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13593-013-0138-9" target="_hplink">Marker Assisted Selection (MAS), for example, uses the knowledge of a plant's genome to rapidly identify genes which confer favorable traits in plants, such as higher yield, pest resistance and drought-tolerance, without the inherent risks associated with GE.</a> Independent researchers argue that the dominance of Monsanto and the major food corporations in the global public discourse on feeding the world sustainably has led to an over-emphasis on GE crops (and animals) as the only possible solution, often at the expense of other techniques and alternative agronomic approaches such as agroecology, which could offer more appropriate and sustainable solutions. Of even more concern, however, is the fact that focusing exclusively on intensification and GE production will ultimately lead to a greater reduction in plant and animal biodiversity, <a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13593-013-0138-9" target="_hplink">further reducing the overall resilience and security of our global food production systems.</a> We allow this <strong>EPIC FAIL</strong> to continue at our own peril.

  • So Who Really Benefits?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-gunther/ge-crop-thriller-leaves-bond_b_3280061.html" target="_hplink">The billions of dollars spent by the likes of Monsanto on PR, lobbying Congress, and bullying and threatening other nations</a> has certainly helped to maintain the fascination with this seemingly glamorous technological panacea among politicians and policy makers. But the honeymoon is now over: Emerging science from both home and abroad is raising serious questions about the long-term benefits and risks of GE crops. What's more, mounting anecdotal evidence suggests that <a href="http://modernfarmer.com/2013/12/post-gmo-economy/" target="_hplink">U.S. farmers are beginning to regret sowing the crops in the first place</a>. But even if you think the collateral damage to global biodiversity associated with GE crops and the intensification of farming is a necessary cost, my question is this: If GE crops don't actually reduce overall pesticide use or increase crop yields, and if most independent scientists around the world contend that GE crop technology offers limited solutions to the challenges of poverty and hunger in developing countries, and that available research funding would be much better spent on other research areas if we're going to feed the world sustainably, then exactly who or what stands to benefit from any further fixation on GE crop technology—other than Monsanto, its shareholders, and its army of lackeys?