U.S. court declares genetically modified salmon unlawful after Ecology Action Centre and other groups argue risk to endangered Atlantic salmon | Ecology Action Centre

U.S. court declares genetically modified salmon unlawful after Ecology Action Centre and other groups argue risk to endangered Atlantic salmon

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, Nov. 6, 2020

K’JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) - A U.S. court has ruled the approval of genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) salmon unlawful. The decision made on Thursday ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) violated core environmental laws when it approved the GM Atlantic salmon in Canada. Ecology Action Centre (EAC) is the only Canadian plaintiff in the lawsuit against the FDA.

The GM salmon is the first genetically modified food animal approved in the world. It is being produced by the U.S. company AquaBounty in Canada at an on-land facility in Prince Edward Island and in the U.S., at a plant in Indiana. AquaBounty also recently announced plans to build a third plant in Kentucky.

“This ruling stresses that a decision to approve GM salmon in one jurisdiction can impact the future of wild salmon in another. If AquaBounty continues to expand production, the chance for escape goes up and risk to wild salmon goes up,” says Mark Butler, Senior Advisor with Nature Canada and former Policy Director at Ecology Action Centre. “Endangered wild Atlantic salmon need every protection.”

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the FDA ignored the serious environmental consequences of approving GM salmon and the full extent of plans to grow and commercialize the salmon in the U.S. and around the world, violating the National Environmental Policy Act. The Court also ruled that FDA's unilateral decision that GM salmon could have no possible effect on highly-endangered, wild Atlantic salmon was wrong, violating the Endangered Species Act.

The Court ordered the FDA to go back and examine the environmental consequences of an escape of GM salmon into the wild. The court decision does not impact the current production or sale of GM salmon. 

"Today's decision is a vital victory for endangered salmon and our oceans," says George Kimbrell, legal director of the U.S. Center for Food Safety and counsel in the case. “The absolute last thing our planet needs right now is another human-created crisis like escaped genetically engineered fish running amok."

EAC is one of 12 plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit against the FDA. The case was brought forward in 2016 by U.S. groups, the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, who represent a broad client coalition of environmental, consumer, commercial and recreational fishing organizations and the Quinault Indian Nation. EAC is also a member of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a non-profit monitoring the court case closely for the past several years.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of this multi-year effort and it’s great to see the tireless work of the coalition paying off,” says Simon Ryder-Burbidge, Marine Conservation Campaigner at the Ecology Action Centre. “This is a big step in the right direction for the protection of wild salmon into the future, and we’re hoping to see Canada follow suit soon.”

AquaBounty’s GM salmon is engineered to grow faster, using a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and genetic material from ocean pout. If GM salmon were to escape or are accidentally released into the environment, the new species could threaten wild populations by mating with endangered salmon species, outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, and/or introducing new diseases. 

The fight for strong environmental protections related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) doesn’t stop with the U.S. court case. Further action is needed to ensure wild salmon are safeguarded from GM salmon in Canada. In October, a petition was launched in the House of Commons to enhance regulations for GMO industries, improve consumer protections and harmonize legislation with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.



For more information:

Mark Butler, Senior Advisor, Nature Canada
Former Policy Director of the Ecology Action Centre
e: mbutler@naturecanada.ca; t: 902-266-5401

Simon Ryder-Burbidge, Marine Conservation, Ecology Action Centre
e: sryderburbidge@ecologyaction.ca; t: 343-363-1070

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
e: coordinator@cban.ca; t: 902-209-4906

Other Resources:

Press Release, November 5, 2020, Center for Food Safety, U.S.: Federal Court Declares Genetically Engineered Salmon Unlawful, https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/6186/federal-court-declares-genetically-engineered-salmon-unlawful

House of Commons petition calling for the reform of Part 6 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, relating to the regulation of genetically engineered animals: 


Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, www.cban.ca/fish



Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec, Canada. Oct 2017.

PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Hawakins

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