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Genetically Modified Salmon ('Frankenfish') for direct human consumption, Canada

AquAdvantage salmon is the first genetically modified animal for human consumption and has been a highly contested issue in Canada and United States. The opponents call it 'Frankenfish' and warn about its health and environmental impacts.


"AquAdvantage salmon" is a genetically modified (GM) Atlantic salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies. It grows much faster than its farmed non-GE or wild counterparts by containing a gene encoding Chinook salmon growth hormone under the control of an antifreeze protein promoter and terminator from ocean pout [11, 12]. The debates regarding its approval as a species that can be commercialized — it has been dubbed Frankenfish by its opponents — began in September 2011 with a meeting of the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC) as well as a public hearing, together with the release of a health and safety briefing and an environmental assessment package on the transgenic animal developed by AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, Massachusetts. Despite VMAC’s determination that AquAdvantage salmon is “as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon,” critics continue to raise concerns relating to its allergenicity, levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and composition of polyunsaturated fatty acids as well as the potential impacts of the farmed GMO fish on the environment. This development has resulted in various concerns and debates about its safety, health and environmental impacts both in US and Canada, including the regulatory regimes in both countries and their markets [11]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Genetically Modified Salmon ('Frankenfish') for direct human consumption, Canada
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Fish
Live Animals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

In 1989, AquaBounty firm's initial research and development attempts with transgenic salmon began in cooperation with the Memorial University of Newfoundland. Canadian researchers created the AquAdvantage® transgene (genetic construct), which expressed Chinook salmon growth hormone under the control of an Ocean Pout promoter. The founder animal from which the AquAdvantage® line was derived was created by microinjection of the transgene into fertilized eggs of wild Atlantic salmon. In 1992, AquAdvantage® Salmon was established from the F1 generation of the EO-1α line.

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Level of Investment for the conflictive project12,000,000
Type of populationUnknown
Start of the conflict:01/01/2010
Company names or state enterprises:AquaBounty Technologies from United States of America
Relevant government actors:U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA);
Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal;
Canada's Ministry of Environment;
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Ecology Action Centre:;
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN):;
The Council of Canadians:;
Sitka Local Foods Network:;
Living Oceans Society:;
Sitka Conservation Society:
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Environmental lawyers, food organisations
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Genetic contamination, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsAquAdvantage fish might escape and cause the collapse of wild salmon populations. Environmental concerns are the most significant ones associated with the development of GE animals (see the report of the National Research Council), which was prepared at the request of the FDA after the AquAdvantage salmon submission. The risk of harm from GE animals is the product of (i) harm, given exposure to the hazard (that is, the GE animal), and (ii) the probability of exposure17,18. And in this case, the probability of exposure given the ‘Limitations for Use’ associated with the AquAdvantage salmon product definition was seen to be extremely small due to the triple redundancy of simultaneous containment measures—that is, (i) land-based production with physical confinement barriers (screens), (ii) reproductive confinement measures resulting in 99% sterility and 100% female production stocks and (iii) thermally lethal lake and stream temperatures downstream from the proposed production facility in Panama— and high salinity of waters surrounding the Canadian location" [11].
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
New legislation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:The opponents demand the protection of wild salmon and the application of precautionary principle regarding the production, marketing and consumption of GM-salmon.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The raising and marketing of GM salmon has been stopped several times through street protests and judicial activism, but the project is ongoing.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Food and Drugs' Administration on AquAdvantage Salmon [17]
[click to view]

Food and Drugs' Administration (FDA), AquAdvantage Salmon Fact Sheet [7]
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

The Tragedy of the Commodity (Longo, Clausen and Clark; 2015) [12]
[click to view]

Transgenic salmon: a final leap to the grocery shelf? (Van Eenennaam and Muir, Nature Biotechnology; 2016) [11]
[click to view]

Website of AquaBounty Technologies [10]
[click to view]

Living Ocean Resources (2014) [13]
[click to view]

AquaBounty Technologies announces $12M IPO to fund expansion (January 2018) [21]
[click to view]

AquaBounty salmon was approved for sale in Canada in 2016, paving the way for it to become the first genetically engineered animal to enter the food supply (The Guardian, 9 August 2017) [6]
[click to view]

Environmental groups take the federal government to court (Ecojustice, 2014) [5]
[click to view]

The Chronology of AquAdvantage Salmon (AquaBounty, 2014) [9]
[click to view]

Canada sued over approval of genetically modified salmon scheme (The Guardian, 17 November 2015) [3]
[click to view]

Reports on GM salmon in Canada (CBAN, 2017, 2018) [2]
[click to view]

Food Secure Canada [1]
[click to view]

Groups challenge federal approval of genetically modified salmon in court (CBC News, 18 October 2016) [16]
[click to view]

Canadian Government Receiving Royalties from Genetically Modified Salmon Sales (CBAN, 22 March 2018) [8]
[click to view]

About 4.5 tonnes of GMO salmon consumed in Canada so far, company says (The Star News/The Washington Post, 4 August 2017) [22]
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Discussion on GM salmon [19]
[click to view]

Aquabounty's GM Salmon Facility, PEI Canada (CBAN) [20]
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Irmak Ertör, ICTA UAB, ENVJUSTICE
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3522
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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