Escape of genetically-modified zebrafish into the wild in Brazil could happen with modified salmon here, conservationist says

0

Brilliant zebrafish, escapees from Brazilian fish farms, are breeding wild in Atlantic Forest creeks there and raising concerns about modified salmon raised at a Canadian fish farm.

“This is the first documented case…of a genetically modified animal that escaped confinement and reproduced in the wild,” said Mark Butler, senior adviser to Nature Canada, an environmental organization headquartered in Ottawa.

“We heard that on the salmon and we heard with the glistening fish, don’t worry those fish won’t escape, it won’t happen and now it has happened.”

In August 2021, Health Canada had given the green light for genetically modified salmon raised in Prince Edward Island to be sold in Canada.

A communications adviser to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the regulator of food quality and safety sold in Canada, told the Chronicle Herald at the time that AquAdvantage salmon, Atlantic salmon genetically modified (GM) developed by AquaBounty, was available for sale. in Canada following a multi-year review by Health Canada.

“The Government of Canada uses a strict process to assess the safety of genetically engineered foods, feeds and plants,” the inspection agency said in its response.

Butler said the Canadian approval allowed for some ambiguity, giving AquaBounty permission to retail modified salmon grown at its Rollo Bay fish farm in northeast Prince Edward Island.

“AquaBounty now has the power or permission to sell the fish in Canada,” Butler said, but that doesn’t mean the GM salmon is actually on store shelves.

Despite the federal approval, Butler said seafood is a provincial responsibility and a “provincial point of contact” is needed to allow the slaughter and sale of the fish.


Gretchen Wagner shows off some of the zebrafish at Dalhousie University's research lab.  -- Contributed
Gretchen Wagner shows off some of the zebrafish at Dalhousie University’s research lab. — Contributed

The food inspection agency said Canada’s assessment approach is consistent with that used in European Union countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States. United.

Butler and Nature Trust have even launched a reward system, offering a $500 bonus to anyone who provides a tip with information about where genetically modified salmon is sold.

No takers.

“We don’t know where it is, but as far as we know they are selling it,” he said.

Butler said a major problem with modified salmon is that if or when modified fish is sold in Canada, it is not labeled as such and the buyer would not know it is modified salmon.

The food inspection agency said Canada does not require labeling of genetically modified foods because these foods have been rigorously evaluated and are considered to be just as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts.

“Canada only requires mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods when there is a health risk that the labeling can address, such as the presence of allergens or a significant nutritional change in the product,” he said. ‘agency.

Dalhousie Medical School researchers are working with the tiny zebrafish that is genetically similar to humans to screen for potential drug side effects.  - Photo by Danny Abriel
Researchers at the Dalhousie School of Medicine are working with the little zebrafish. – Photo by Danny Abriel

Back in Brazil, journalist Sofia Moutinho reports that the red and green versions of the genetically modified zebrafish are more vivid than normal zebrafish, even in natural light.

Native to Southeast Asia, matchstick-sized freshwater fish were engineered to shine for research purposes in the late 1990s by endowing them with fluorescent jellyfish genes. By the 2000s, companies had grasped the potential of neon fish as pets.


“If they were to escape, they could breed. An even bigger concern would be that they breed with wild salmon and then there is genetic contamination of wild stocks. Once that happens, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

-Marc Butler


Escapees, writes Moutinho, breed year-round, peaking during the rainy season, similar to the native zebrafish in Asia. But transgenic fish seem to reach sexual maturity earlier than their ancestors, allowing them to reproduce more and spread faster. The invaders also eat well, devouring a diverse diet of native insects, algae, and zooplankton.

One researcher said glowfish could be thought of as little weeds growing out of concrete, but another pointed out that even little weeds can grow and cause a lot of damage and that genetically modified glowfish could become abundant enough. to directly affect local species by competing for or feeding on food.

“The scientists’ educated guesses aren’t particularly reassuring,” Butler said, comparing the glowfish escapees to a potential escape of modified Atlantic salmon from the PEI lockdown. in nature.

“Once that fish is out there, we just don’t know how it’s going to interact with other fish or the environment,” Butler said. “It’s living genetic pollution. Over time, its impact will increase. There are very harmful chemicals that are very persistent in the environment, but one thing they don’t do is reproduce. In this case, these fish will breed and grow in the waterways of Brazil.

It’s the same concern with genetically modified salmon.

“If they were to escape, they could breed. An even bigger concern would be that they breed with wild salmon and then there is genetic contamination of wild stocks. Once that happens, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

Share.

Comments are closed.