08/08/2017 16:19 EDT | Updated 08/09/2017 15:13 EDT

AquaBounty Has Sold 4.5 Tonnes Of Genetically Modified Atlantic Salmon In Canada

The fish grow much faster than conventional salmon.

Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Genetically modified salmon fillets at AquaBounty genetically modified salmon farm in Waltham, Massachusetts.

After decades of trying to get approval by in North America, genetically modified Atlantic salmon has been sold to consumers in Canada.

AquaBounty Technologies, an American company that produces the Atlantic salmon, confirmed it had sold 4.5 tonnes of the modified fish on August 4, the Scientific American reported.

The fish have been engineered with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon to grow faster than regular salmon and require less food. They take about 18 months to reach market size, which is much quicker than the 30 months or so for conventional salmon.

The Washington Post wrote AquaBounty's salmon also contains a gene from the ocean pout that makes the salmon produce the growth hormone gene all-year-round.

The company produces the eggs in a facility in P.E.I., which is currently being expanded, and then they're shipped to Panama where the fish are raised.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Traditional salmon fillets being sold at a farmer's market.

Environmentalists worry the genetically modified fish may escape their enclosures on fish farms and disrupt the natural ecosystem around them. But, according to the Post, the AquaBounty fish are all female and they have been altered to be sterile.

In addition, any potential escapees wouldn't survive in salt water.

Optional labelling

Health Canada assessed the AquAdvantage salmon and concluded it "did not pose a greater risk to human health than salmon currently available on the Canadian market," and that it would have no impact on allergies nor a difference in nutritional value compared to other farmed salmon.

Because of that, the AquAdvantage product is not required to be specially labelled as genetically modified, and is up to the discretion of retailers.

Environmentalist groups bristle at that idea, advocating for the consumers' right to know if they're buying genetically modified food.

"The first genetically modified animals have arrived in the market and Canadian consumers are becoming, unwittingly, the first guinea pigs," Thibault Rehn of the group Vigilance OGM told AFP.

AquaBounty has been working to get their salmon to people's dinner plates for nearly 25 years, the Scientific American reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved AquAdvantage salmon in 2015, followed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada six months later. That paved the way for the fish to be sold in Canada starting this year.

The Associated Press
AquaBounty CEO Ron Stotish speaks to reporters in Rockville, Md.

Ron Stotish, the company's chief executive, defended his product in the magazine, pointing out that the venture created jobs in Canada, and the product doesn't have the same pathogens and parasites found in traditional salmon.

These salmon hitting the market could pave the way for other genetically modified animals, according to the Post, like milk that has extra nutrients in it.

Genetically modified crops like soybean and corn are already commonly sold.

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