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Panama fines GM fish company with Canadian operation for violating environmental regulations

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 U.S. 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 U.S. If approved for human consumption in Canada or the U.S., the salmon would be the first GM animal in the world to be produced for food.

"This case underscores the importance of insuring that a contained aquaculture facility is in fact closed to protect the environment from escaping pathogens and GM fish," said Karen Wristen, Executive Director of Living Oceans Society.

The fines, totalling $9,500 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, 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 found that the company did not maintain up-to-date permits for the “introduction of the subject species” (i.e. the GM salmon) or 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.

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Contact Information

Karen Wristen, Living Oceans Society, 604-788-5634

Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613-241-2267 ext. 25

Sharon Labchuk, Islanders Say No to Frankenfish, 902-626-7327

Mark Butler, Ecology Action Centre, 902-429-5287, (mobile) 902-266-5401 Available for French interviews

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