Canada says genetically modified salmon safe for consumption

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada approved a type of genetically modified salmon for sale, health officials said on Thursday, the first such animal to be cleared as safe for consumption in the country.

The salmon was approved in the United States to be farmed for human consumption last year but has since been a source of controversy. Environmentalists sued U.S. health regulators this year to try to overturn the decision.

Canadian activist groups expressed their concerns following the approval, saying the government should establish mandatory labeling of all genetically modified foods. Some are concerned they may pose risks to the environment or to health.

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said that the AquAdvantage salmon developed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies had been found to be as safe and nutritious as conventional salmon for food and livestock feed.

These were the final scientific assessments by the government required to allow the salmon to be sold in Canada, the agencies said.

Nonetheless, the salmon is still more than 18 months away from coming to market, Health Minister Jane Philpott said.

“While this is the first product of this nature to be reviewed, it will not likely be the last,” Philpott told reporters.

Health Canada said there are no special labeling requirements for the salmon, given that there are no health and safety concerns.

The salmon is developed by introducing a growth hormone gene from a Pacific salmon to an Atlantic Salmon, which then grows faster than conventional farmed salmon.

The company, which has a facility in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, welcomed the news.

“We are pleased to receive the approvals of the various authorities of Canada which means we can produce, sell and eat our AquAdvantage Salmon in Canada,” Chief Executive Officer Ronald Stotish said in a statement.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Bernard Orr and James Dalgleish