October 28 2014. Ottawa. The Government of Panama has fined the company AquaBounty for breaching numerous national environmental laws during its ongoing research and development of a genetically modified (GM) Atlantic salmon. The GM fish eggs were shipped from Canada, provoking fears of environmental contamination in both countries.
“This is an incredibly risky technology that threatens the future of wild Atlantic salmon,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), “These corporate violations expose how easy it would be for containment of this GM fish to fail.”
The small US company AquaBounty operates a facility in Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, where it produces GM salmon eggs that are shipped to Panama for further research and development. At the end of last year, the Minister of the Environment approved the production of the GM fish and fish eggs in Canada, but the company also hopes to get approval soon to produce the GM fish in Panama, and to sell the fish on the market in Canada and the US. If approved for human consumption in Canada or the US, the salmon would be the first GM animal in the world to be produced for food.
“GM salmon eggs from PEI could’ve already caused environmental damage in Panama,” said Sharon Labchuk of the PEI group called Islanders Say No to Frankenfish, “Our worst fear is this GM fish escapes and PEI becomes the source of harmful living pollution around the world.”
The fines, totalling $9500 USD (close to the maximum allowable of $10,000), are the conclusion of a government investigation triggered by a detailed complaint sent by the Environmental Advocacy Center of Panama (Centro de Incidencia Ambiental de Panama or CIAM) to the National Environmental Authority in Panama.
“Canada’s Environment Minister approved production of this GM salmon in Canada while the investigation in Panama was still underway. We just don’t share her confidence that the fish won’t escape. If an escape does happen, it could have irreversible impacts on our wild Atlantic salmon” said Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) in Nova Scotia. EAC, with Living Oceans Society (BC), is currently engaged in a court challenge of the Minister’s decision to approve GM fish production in Canada.
In November 2013, CBAN sent a letter to the Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, outlining the complaint in Panama and asking her to halt the environmental risk assessment of the GM fish until the investigation was concluded. The Minister announced her approval just two days later.
Panama’s National Environmental Authority found that AquaBounty “repeatedly violated…environmental regulations”. The Authority ruled that the company did not maintain up-to-date permits for the “introduction of subject species” (i.e. the GM salmon) or present evidence of a biosecurity strategy. The Authority also confirmed that the company failed to secure legally required permits related to water use and water discharge before they began operating.
This is the second time that the Panamanian Authority has investigated AquaBounty, and ruled on missing permits.
For more information:
Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613 241 2267 ext 25 www.cban.ca/fish
Sharon Labchuk, Islanders Say No to Frankenfish, 902 626 7327
Mark Butler, Ecology Action Centre, 902 429 5287, (cell) 902 266 5401 Available for French interviews
Karen Wristen, Living Oceans Society, 604 788 5634