GeneWatch UK PR: Genetically Modified (GM) salmon company fined for environmental violations in Panama

29th October 2014

 Officials in Panama have ruled that AquaBounty Technologies has been operating in violation of environmental regulations as it experiments with genetically modified (GM) salmon (1).

 In a decision that could challenge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) ongoing safety assessment of AquaBounty's GM salmon, Panamanian officials fined the company 9500 US dollars (close to the maximum allowable penalty of 10,000 US dollars), in a response to a complaint by the Environmental Advocacy Center of Panama (Centro de Incidencia Ambiental de Panama, CIAM) .  The National Environmental Authority in Panama concluded that, "We are of the opinion that it [AquaBounty] has repeatedly violated the aforementioned environmental regulations".

 "Aquabounty claims that commercial production of its GM fish will be tightly controlled but the reality is that there is no credible mechanism in place to prevent GM salmon eggs being shipped worldwide, including into European waters, where they could threaten wild North Atlantic salmon populations" said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. "Today's decision highlights how little regard the company has for environmental regulations".

 Aquabounty plans to produce GM salmon eggs in Canada, ship the eggs to Panama for commercial production of the fish, and ship GM fish fillets back into the USA. In this way, it has sought to avoid producing a full environmental impact assessment for production of the fish. Environmentalists and fish producers are concerned that the GM salmon, which is genetically engineered to grow faster than conventional salmon, could threaten wild salmon populations through competitive effects.  

 In 2012, the FDA published a draft "Finding of No Significant Impact" for the GM Atlantic salmon, based on claims by the company that the fish could not escape into US waters and would therefore have no environmental impact there. In its submission to the FDA, GeneWatch UK argued that the FDA did not have the legal powers to inspect or enforce environmental violations in other countries such as Panama, and that it also had responsibilities to protect international waters (2). GeneWatch also noted the potential for GM fish eggs to be shipped worldwide, with no credible controls, and that no permit for commercial production of the GM salmon in Panama has yet been issued, only an experimental permit. Today's news highlights that AquaBounty has breached environmental regulations even during this experimental phase.

 "Today's decision highlights that the FDA has no control over the production of this GM fish and no means to prevent serious adverse environmental impacts" said Dr Wallace, "Production of AquaBounty's GM salmon eggs is clearly risky for wild salmon populations and it is not acceptable for regulators to continue to ignore this risk".

 In the USA, Food & Water Watch, Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth called on the FDA to terminate its regulatory review and deny AquaBounty's pending regulatory application to sell the company's GM fish in the United States (3). In Canada, where Aquabounty produces the GM salmon eggs for export on Prince Edward Island, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) in Nova Scotia, and the Living Oceans Society again questioned Canada's approval of GM salmon egg production, which is the subject of a legal challenge (4).

 For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile).

 Notes for Editors:

(1)    Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente. Administracion Regional de Chiriqui. Resolucion Arach 071-2014.

(2)    GeneWatch UK submission to the FDA consultation on Aquabounty's GM salmon. 26th April 2013.

(3)    AquaBounty Fined for Repeated Environmental Violations on Genetically Engineered Salmon. Joint Press Release. 28th October 2014.

(4) Panama fines GM fish company with Canadian operation for violating environmental regulations. Joint Press Release. October 28th 2014.

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