Thank you very much for the invitation to present. Thank you for taking a look at this issue. We appreciate the opportunity to be before you.
I work with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, also referred to as CBAN, which monitors, researches, and raises various concerns and critiques to encourage and engage democratic discussion over the introduction and use of this technology in food and farming. We provide information to Canadians. For example, in the absence of mandatory labelling, we provide a list of genetically modified foods that are on the market.
CBAN brings together 17 organizations on the shared platform of Tides Canada. We are composed of environmental groups, farmer associations, international development groups, and regional coalitions of grassroots community groups. Together CBAN membership raises diverse types of concerns over the use of genetic engineering and brings together a wide and rich range of perspectives and expertise.
How close GM animals, products, and technologies are to the market is actually difficult to determine. The pipeline of GM animals is difficult to monitor because the research is most often owned by private companies, and the majority of research in the lab actually never leads to working products.
We heard last week from regulators that they discussed the product pipeline with companies, but this is not information that the Canadian public is privy to. In Canada, however, we already have two concrete examples of GM animals we can use to discuss the issue and the policy challenges that are raised, in particular the GM salmon.
Canada approved the world's first GM food animal. As you know, that is the GM salmon, which could make its way to market in the next two to three years. The company's initial plan, or stated business plan, was to produce the GM salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island, ship the eggs to Panama, and grow out and process the fish in Panama for the U.S. and Canadian markets; however, the company actually has approval to grow both the eggs and the salmon in Prince Edward Island. The ministers, in their decision to allow commercial production, had approved commercial production anywhere in Canada of eggs and salmon as long as it was in a contained facility on land. There's an ongoing court case, and in December 2015 that production was restricted to P.E.I.
In Canada we have the additional concrete example of the GM pig from the University of Guelph, called the Enviropig. The pig was approved by Environment Canada—because, of course, CFIA has been approving the environmental release of crop plants, but it's Environment Canada that approves GM animals for release. However, the review by Health Canada was halted after the project was removed after pork producers withdrew their support.
I did want to bring your attention to the six reports that CBAN has produced. I think these were sent to you in file format. A lot of the comments I'll provide today are based in our most recent research, looking at the impacts of GM crops and foods after 20 years in Canada.
In the interest of time—although much has passed already—we've structured our comments on five specific policy recommendations and a further final, broader proposal.
First, there needs to be an assessment of economic impact before any GM product is approved for release. The release of some GM products poses economic risks. These risks are not assessed by any department before a new GM product is released. Economic risk-benefit analysis is not part of Canadian regulation. This also means that farmers are not consulted before GM products are approved. In the case of GM fish, fishers, the aquaculture industry, and aboriginal peoples and local communities were not consulted. There is no assessment of risks, but there is equally no assessment of benefits before or after commercialization.
We need only look at the $29-million cost of GM contamination to Canada's flax industry to see a little of what could be at stake. This problem of the costs to some farmers is not new. It was articulated by farmers over the possible commercialization of GM wheat in 2004 and it continues to be heard in the objections to GM alfalfa by Alberta forage groups and 15 farm groups together earlier this year.
The economic risk manifests itself in at least two ways. One, the introduction of a GM product, especially in the absence of mandatory labelling of GM foods, can undermine the market for an entire commodity. This was the concern of apple producers: that the approval of the GM apple would undermine consumer confidence and damage the entire market. Two, if a new product is released and contamination occurs, the result can be market closure.
Second, there is a need to strengthen environmental risk assessment, including a need to assess the long-term system-wide risks of each GM product and the use this technology as a whole. Unfortunately, the risk of contamination is not necessarily diminished with GM animals. There have already been two contamination incidents with GM pigs in Canada, on two separate occasions, at two different institutions, with two different experimental pigs—pigs that were not approved for human consumption. In both cases, GM pig carcasses were rendered for animal feed instead of being incinerated as biohazard. Both contamination incidents were caused by human error. These two incidents highlight the problem of contamination even with large organisms, not just small flax seeds or pollen from flowering alfalfa plants. If we can't contain GM pigs, how can we successfully contain GM salmon or salmon eggs—or alfalfa, flax, or wheat, for that matter?
Third, Canada needs systems for tracking and tracing all GM organisms. Statistics Canada does not track all GM products on the market. Regulatory agencies do not track which products are commercialized and being grown. The government only knows what GM traits have been approved, not where they are or how much are on the market. This means that the government does not have the tools it needs to assess risks and benefits in the long term, or even answer your questions about the market status of the GM apple, for example.
The committee has already heard about the challenges of tagging from the Cattlemen's Association. The seafood industry already struggles to track seafood. It is too common that seafood in the food market is actually mislabelled.
Fourth, Canadians need transparency in regulation. CBAN examined this issue very closely in our GM inquiry. Transparency is missing in almost every step of regulation. In a few cases, there is partial transparency. For example, GM animals are not covered by the voluntary agreement between CropLife and the CFIA that allows the CFIA to post notices of products under review if companies agree. This is called the Biotechnology Notices of Submission Project. This means that at any given time, Canadians do not know what GM animals, if any, are under government review.
Finally, Canadian consumers need mandatory labelling of all GM foods in the grocery store. Lack of transparency is most obviously manifest in the lack of labelling. The issue of GM animals makes labelling an even more urgent issue for Canadians. The issue of GM animals also highlights the range of concerns that could bring a consumer to want GM food labelling, to want to choose. For example, some Canadians have specific ethical concerns.
Twenty years of polling in Canada consistently showed that 80% of Canadians want mandatory labelling of all GM foods. The most recent is 88%. Mandatory labelling needs to be in place before the GM fish hits the market.
In conclusion, the specific proposals that I've outlined are all needed to get regulation and policy close to what it needs to be to address the challenges of GM animals. We could also refer back to the Royal Society of Canada's expert panel report of 2001, which had 53 recommendations for regulatory change. We have articulated these specific proposals because the first GM food animal has already been approved and could be on the market really soon.
But there is a more fundamental need. We need to step back and ask if genetically engineering animals is ethical. Is it acceptable to Canadians? Is it necessary? It is Canadians who need to answer these questions. It is Canadians who need to be asked. There needs to be a moratorium on the introduction of GM animals until Canadians have a chance to be heard and until changes are made to increase the government's ability to regulate GM organisms and food, including tracking and traceability and transparency, including mandatory GM food labelling.
Canada has two decades of experience with GM crops and foods, but they have not yet been evaluated. We need to step back so that we can also evaluate the impacts of GM crops. We need to do this, and then learn and apply any lessons from the release of GM crops and foods before we consider allowing GM animals into our environment and food system.
I'm Dennis Prouse, vice-president, government affairs, with CropLife Canada. I very much appreciate the opportunity to present to you today and the invitation you have given us.
CropLife Canada represents the manufacturers, developers, and distributers of plant science innovations, including pest control products and plant biotechnology for use in agriculture and urban and public health settings. We're committed to protecting human health and the environment and to providing a safe, abundant food supply for Canadians.
We believe in driving innovation through continuous research. CropLife Canada is a member of CropLife International, a global federation representing the plant science industry in 91 countries.
As this committee completes the study on one element of biotechnology, it is useful to look back at the success of plant biotechnology, with which Canadians might be more familiar. It's now been over 20 years since the commercialization of the first genetically engineered crops in Canada, and we can look back on where this has led us, what the process was, and what the path might be going forward.
The plant biotechnology industry is a global research-based industry that invests significant amounts of capital and time into the discovery, development, and regulatory approval of a wide variety of plant breeding innovations. These innovations have produced new varieties of crops that are resistant to insects, diseases, drought, and certain herbicides, therefore delivering more predictable yields, improved quality, and access to more environmentally sustainable farming practices.
These innovations have delivered significant benefits around the globe for the environment, consumers, and farmers. In Canada alone, these improved crops raise yields by 32%. Fully $8.3 billion or 71% of Canada's trade balance in crops is directly attributable to innovations in crop protection products and plant biotechnology. These benefits are good for consumers as well as farmers, since without the use of plant biotechnology and pesticides, we would pay about 55% more for food—roughly $4,400 more per family and $60 billion more as a country.
We're very proud of the role that plant biotechnology is playing to improve sustainability. Reduced land use, less tillage, and limited equipment passes save Canadian farmers up to 194 million litres of fuel per year, saving 29 million tonnes per year of greenhouse gases. Without biotech crops and pesticides, farmers would need to use 50% more land than they do today to produce the same amount of food. That's more than the total area of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Far from harming biodiversity, growing more food on less land promotes it.
For the future, research is under way to develop crops that can thrive in changing climate conditions, including drought, excess moisture, and salty soils. Modern agriculture is more sustainable than ever, thanks to innovation, and it's part of the solution on climate change.
The history of plant biotechnology in Canada has been one of tremendous success. That success has been made possible by one key policy pillar: a transparent, predictable, and science-based regulatory system. Canada's science-based regulatory system is world renowned, and since its official formation almost 20 years ago, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency of Health Canada has done outstanding work in safeguarding the health and safety of Canadians and in establishing a regulatory model in which innovation can be commercialized. This is not insignificant, as many nations have regulatory models that lack predictability and timeliness and are rife with political interference in decision-making. Needless to say, this is not a model that fosters investment and innovation.
My previous statements were specific to our experience in plant biotechnology, but I believe the remainder of my thoughts today apply to the path of success for innovation, whether in plant or animal.
In order for Canada to continue to be a leader in any area of innovation and remain competitive on the world stage in agriculture and to realize the benefits these products can provide, farmers require timely access to the latest agricultural tools. To do this, it is imperative that Canada's regulatory pathway for the commercialization of these innovations be timely, predictable, and transparent in order to create an environment that encourages investment.
The most critical element in the commercialization process impacting the development of these capital-intensive research-based innovations in Canada is the regulatory regime for safety approvals. There's a relatively small window for innovators to make a commercial success of a research-based innovation investment, so lengthy and unpredictable review periods are prohibitive for both large corporations and smaller start-ups alike.
Canada does have an opportunity here to be a leader. Canadian regulators are already involved in the international science community in tracking the discussions on these issues. For example, Health Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada just last week hosted an OECD meeting here in Ottawa, gathering international experts from around the world to discuss the wide-ranging benefits that new gene-editing technology can bring to plant and animal agriculture, aquaculture, the environment, and human health, and they discussed the associated regulatory requirements.
Given this pace of innovation, we believe it's very important for governments to periodically review their regulatory regimes. Such a review requires direct investment in those regulatory programs. For example, Mr. Chair, the Canadian Biotech Strategy Fund in the early 2000s resulted in the development of improved regulatory frameworks and processes that were more efficient for the government and the industry. We believe this played a great part in aiding Canada's success as a plant biotechnology leader. Currently, simply as a benchmark, we're number five in the world.
In the case of plant biotechnology, government would be reviewing the system in the context of two decades of safe and successful commercialization. In that time, there hasn't been a single product submitted for review that has been deemed harmful to either humans, animals, or the environment, in Canada or in any other country with a functioning regulatory system. Trillions of meals safely consumed and two billion hectares safely grown across the globe in that time attest to the high degree of safety inherent in these innovations for both consumers and the environment. For animal biotechnology, this review would be coming at a time when this long-standing area of science is seeing renewed interest in investment.
In support of these statements, CropLife Canada has two recommendations for the committee's consideration that are aligned with the Government of Canada's new innovation agenda, particularly the commitment to ease of doing business, which we believe has clearly signalled that the Canadian government has a desire to modernize its regulatory regimes to adapt and to capture the potential of innovative industries while at the same time maintaining Canada's high safety standards.
First, CropLife Canada would recommend that the Government of Canada publicly commit to improving the efficiency of the approval system for products of both plant and animal biotechnology through direct investment in the regulatory departments involved in their oversight.
Second, CropLife Canada would strongly recommend that the Government of Canada build on its strong science-based regulatory system, leveraging the international scientific consensus on the safety of these products and their domestic history of safe use to develop a tiered risk assessment process which is founded in the principle of risk-based allocation of resources.
This would specifically address plant breeding innovations that have emerged in recent years, such as products of gene editing in CRISPR-CAS9, which are early indicators that the pace of technology development is increasing rapidly compared to the last 20 years. It's essential that a modernized approach to reviewing these innovations be based on a predefined and transparent process that is founded on a definition of risk that is consistent across all the departments and agencies involved in the regulatory regime.
To conclude, Mr. Chair, it's clear that plant biotechnology has delivered clear and measurable benefits to Canadian consumers, farmers, and the environment. These benefits have been facilitated by successive Canadian governments having the foresight to maintain a transparent, predictable, and science-based regulatory system. For both plant and animal biotechnology, we believe that maintaining the integrity of that system and respecting the scientists within it is critical to fostering future innovation in Canada. Equally as important to fostering innovation will be clear measures to improve the efficiency and timeliness of that regulatory system.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate your time.
We look forward to answering any questions the committee may ask.
I want to talk about the cost-benefit ratio, and I want to know whether the consumer or the producer benefits. It's well understood that, in the past 15 to 20 years, biotechnology has dramatically improved plant and grain yields. Take soya, for example. About 15 years ago, in my region, we were very happy when one tonne of soya was harvested. Today, that's considered a poor yield, since each acre now provides 1.35 to 1.50 tonnes. The seed companies have made great strides.
Reseach results in costs that are transferred to the producers. If a company develops a seed that cost $150 million to research, in the next 10 years, the seed companies will undoubtedly transfer the cost of the research to the producer. However, the producer won't necessarily be able to obtain a price for the grain that differs from the market price. Sometimes, things are going well, the prices are good and everything is fine. But when global prices drop, the price of seed doesn't decrease. In general, the price increases by 2%, 3% or 4% a year, and this doesn't affect the sale price of products on the market.
In the future, do you think the pendulum will swing in favour of producers, or will the price of seed keep increasing? The producers risk being caught in a no-win situation.
They don't have a choice. They need to get their seed from somewhere, and practically all the seed is genetically modified. This generates costs, and they can't predict the market price in the coming years.
Thank you as well to the committee for giving us the opportunity to share our view on this important matter.
Thank you very much for this important opportunity. I am with BIOTECanada.
As a way of introduction, BIOTECanada is the national trade association representing Canada's biotech industry. We have over 220 member companies in our association. They are spread across the country in pretty much every region, usually centred around clusters in all of the provinces and usually centred around clusters where there is an expertise. Our members include large multinational pharmaceutical companies, but the vast majority of our members, about 85% to 90% of the members, are small precommercial companies that are in the throes of taking an innovation and moving it forward. As an example, to my left is AquaBounty, one of our member companies, but we also have a number of other companies.
One is a company called Agrisoma. Agrisoma works with a version of a mustard seed that has been genetically modified. It can be grown in fields that are unusable for other plants because either the soil is not nutritious enough or there is not enough moisture or nutrients.
They take that mustard seed, they crush it and extract the oil from it, and they turn it into jet fuel. The jet fuel can be used in jet engines without adding any fossil fuel to the mix. The plane has flown and the plane does not have to be altered in any way, shape, or form. The plane that has flown is the NRC plane that is out by the airport. It has gone up in the air. Of course, what they do is send along a little sniffer plane right after it to see what emissions come out, and because there is no fossil fuel in the mix, the emissions are greatly reduced.
The story gets a little bit better, because when you go back to that mustard seed that's been crushed, the meal that comes out of it after the oil has been extracted can go back into the food chain. In a world where we're dealing with those pressures, there is an amazing solution to handle some of those pressures.
We have other great examples. In the health space, BIOTECanada has members that are developing new vaccines, new medicines. As an example, there is an individual out in New Brunswick who has figured out that there is a paralytic quality in the shrew's saliva that has a peptide. He is looking at turning that into a cure for a rare form of ovarian cancer. Out in Vancouver there is a company that has figured out that in the malaria-bearing mosquito there is also a protein that can be used for attacking cancer. These are the types of innovations that we're seeing across this country.
Another company that was referenced this morning is a company in B.C. that is taking an apple and turning off one part of it, so that the apple does not brown when it's cut or bruised. These are phenomenal innovations. What I'd like to do with my time today is explain why it's important.
You talked a bit about this in the earlier session, but we have a planet that has around seven billion people right now. It's rapidly moving to nine billion people. That's bringing with it some very significant challenges. We have new mouths to feed, and by a number of estimates, 50% to 70% more food is going to be required to feed those people. That's important. It's also a fact that the rapid increase in population is putting enormous pressure on this planet. We need to adjust the way we produce and manufacture. There's no question about it. We need to not only mitigate against future impact on the planet but we also have to adapt to what is already a changed planet.
That is the solution that biotechnology represents. Addressing those challenges is absolutely a social imperative for us as a population, as a society, and we need to get at it as quickly as possible. For Canada, that represents an enormous economic opportunity. We have a long history of biotech innovation in this country, dating back to some earlier developments of vaccines, whether it be in the polio space or in the development of insulin.
In our more recent world, and certainly part of this discussion today, we have canola. This is one of the greatest crops this country has ever had. The China deal underscores exactly how important it is, an estimated $2.5 billion. There is a huge economic opportunity in addressing the challenges that are coming with global population growth. Canada is very well positioned to address those challenges. As I said, the ecosystem that's across the country and found in every province is very healthy and diverse There is lots of innovation coming out of our universities and being driven forward.
The history that we have in this country of developing this innovation has also led to another very important strength for this country, which is our regulatory process. Canada is among the world leaders at regulating innovation, at making sure that products are safe and efficacious for human consumption and also for the environment. Adding more problems to our already challenged environment is not really good for anybody.
Canada is now well known around the world as having one of the best regulatory systems for oversight. This is a huge, global competitive strength for the industry. I think without it the industry would not be as globally competitive, so we advocate that we keep pace. The innovations are happening at a very rapid rate, and we need to keep pace with those innovations. Our science has to be as rigorous as possible; there's no question about that.
Some of the emerging challenges, such as Zika and Ebola, require very rapid responses. There's a company in Quebec City that's taking tobacco leaves and growing vaccines. They're able to close the gap. A normal vaccine can take anywhere between 12 and 18 months to develop; they are able to grow that vaccine in weeks. We can respond very quickly to these emerging challenges with that. That doesn't mean we can just let everything happen without any regulatory oversight. It's very important that our regulatory oversight continue.
We have a great opportunity. It's a great economic opportunity, but we have to make sure we're doing it right.
I will now turn the microphone over to my colleague, who can explain in a bit more depth how strict our regulatory system is, as well as the benefits of the company and how it can be commercialized in this country.
I look forward to the questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me to speak to the committee today on this issue that you're studying, genetically modified animals for human consumption.
I'm the director of communications for AquaBounty. By way of background, I have a Master of Science degree in parasitology from McGill University; a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture, majoring in renewable resources development, also from McGill; and a diploma in agriculture technology from Kemptville College, which was part of the University of Guelph until it was let go.
I've served as communications adviser to Yves Bastien when he was appointed by a previous Liberal government to be Canada's first and only Commissioner for Aquaculture Development at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. That was from 1999 until 2004.
I joined AquaBounty on July 1, 2013, after working in the aquaculture industry as a senior consultant and a founding partner of the Aquaculture Communications Group, where I worked for nine years. My career in aquaculture began 31 years ago in 1985, while I was a mature student. I was 31 when I went back to university at McGill. I followed the development of AquaBounty almost from its founding in 1991. When I first heard of their fast-growing salmon, I thought it was the most innovative advancement ever in the field of salmon aquaculture, and I still believe that today.
The AquAdvantage salmon is an Atlantic salmon. It has one extra gene added to its almost 40,000 genes. That extra gene is from a chinook salmon, and it produces a growth hormone, the same growth hormone that Atlantic salmon produce. The expression of this gene is controlled by a promoter sequence that acts as an “on” switch. That enables the additional growth hormone gene in the AquAdvantage salmon to function year-round instead of only during the spring and summer, as is the case with other Atlantic salmon. This is a seasonal thing. They basically grow in the spring and summer and they stop growing in the fall and winter.
As a result, AquAdvantage salmon grow to maturity in approximately half the time that Atlantic salmon do. Simply put, AquAdvantage salmon grow faster, but not larger. Consequently, AquAdvantage salmon reach a market weight of four to five kilos in 16 to 20 months versus 30 to 36 months for Atlantic salmon in sea cages.
AquAdvantage salmon are produced from certified disease-free eggs from broodstock in our certified disease-free hatchery in Fortune, Prince Edward Island. Shortly after, the eggs are fertilized with the sperm from AquAdvantage salmon males, and the eggs are subjected to a pressure shock that results in sterile fish from those eggs. All AquAdvantage salmon for the production of food are triploid—three sets of chromosomes—and they're all female, so the fish can't breed with other fish and they can't breed with themselves. We have produced a video on this, and that will be something you can look at later.
We have precautions to prevent escapes. These are all female fish, so they can't mate with each other. They're sterile, so they can't mate and reproduce with wild Atlantic salmon. They're farmed on land in closed containment facilities with multiple and redundant physical barriers to escape. The water is pumped from wells on the property. The fish are not exposed to pathogens, parasites, or contaminants in service waters. Land-based farming facilities are biosecure, with stringent biosecurity protocols. The Fortune, P.E.I., facility is surrounded by a chain-link fence, with a locked steel gate, video cameras, alarms, and staff living on-site. The local RCMP detachment routinely patrols the surrounding area. All management staff are equipped with mobile phones linked to security-alert programs in case of equipment failures or other operational issues.
You met with the regulatory people, and you heard what they had to say last week, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on that. What I wanted to do was give you some highlights encapsulating 25 years of AquaBounty.
AquAdvantage salmon is the world's first precision-bred animal for human consumption. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on November 19, 2015, after a rigorous review process that began in September 1995. It was approved by Health Canada on May 19, after a thorough review that began in 2011.
Regulatory agency scientists in the U.S. and Canada concluded that the AquAdvantage salmon is the same as Atlantic salmon in every measurable way. It is safe to eat and poses no significant risk to the environment when grown as described in our approval application. AquAdvantage salmon is arguably the most studied food animal, with a research pedigree spanning 27-plus years. They have been conventionally bred for 12 generations, beginning in 1992. The gene construct was inserted in 1989. Since then the fish are reproduced naturally, eggs and sperm, the same as other fish. The genetic engineering was done once. Most people don't appreciate that.
The trait is inheritable, so it just continues. As long as we breed them, they'll continue to be. AquAdvantage salmon are farmed on land-based, recirculating aquaculture systems known as RAS. They recycle 95% to 99% of the water. The suspended solids are filtered out. The nutrient-rich sludge can be spread on farm fields or used by gardeners as a soil amendment. Locating land-based farms close to consumer markets reduces the transportation costs and the carbon footprint of producing these salmon. It produces a fresher seafood product, closer to the consumer.
Containment of AquAdvantage salmon is of paramount importance to AquaBounty, which has taken all the practical, rational, and reasonable precautions to mitigate this risk of escape. There has never been an escape from an AquaBounty facility in more than 25 years of operation. Because AquAdvantage salmon are isolated inside facilities that use treated well water, the fish are not exposed to pathogens, parasites, and contaminants normally found in the environment. Therefore, we don't need vaccines, antibiotics, or chemical treatments for diseases because we don't experience them. In taste tests, AquAdvantage salmon have performed very well when compared to other farmed Atlantic salmon, achieving “most preferred” by people in double-blind taste tests.
AquaBounty is extremely proud of its innovative AquAdvantage salmon, and we look forward to bringing it to the market for consumers to enjoy.
I will respond to some of the other things that have come up in questioning. Given population growth and the limits of the wild-caught fisheries, and the fact that Atlantic salmon are an endangered species, wild fisheries are not going to be able to supply the protein requirements of a growing world population, and aquaculture is going to have to fill that supply-demand gap, which is widening. Food security is an increasing concern for governments everywhere. Innovation to enhance aquaculture production is critical for providing environmentally sustainable protein for future generations.
I wanted to conclude with this: the approval of the AquAdvantage salmon was based on a weight-of-evidence approach, and as a result, both Canada's and the United States' regulatory agencies determined that AquAdvantage salmon is safe and nutritious for humans, the same as conventional Atlantic salmon. Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration require labelling for food products, including genetically modified foods, where clear, scientifically established health risks or significant changes to the nutritional qualities of the food have been identified and can be mitigated through labelling. For example, an allergen present in food must be labelled to alert consumers. An example is peanuts. In this case, given that no health and safety concerns were identified, there is no special labelling requirements for our salmon.
I will finish with one thing that people are probably not aware of. AquAdvantage salmon was developed by Canadian scientists at a Canadian university, Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland, using the latest scientific knowledge of the time, in the 1980s. The fish was developed in 1989, and they did this to try to resolve a production problem that was affecting Atlantic Canada salmon farmers. The issue was superchill. This was when the temperature of the water dropped below the freezing point of salmon blood, and those fish in the net pens were instantly killed.
The original research was funded by the Canadian government to develop a way to protect those salmon from that problem. The development of the AquAdvantage salmon was the next thing.
Mandatory labelling is obviously a very topical discussion.
There are a couple of pieces to this issue. One is that labelling can be done at any point in time. In fact, I looked at a bag of pretzels on my countertop the other day and it says, “Contains no genetically modified organisms”. If you look at the organic movement, you notice that we didn't label for non-organic food; instead, we allowed the organic movement to put on labels saying it's organic. That, I think, is the better way to go, because we know of no scientific evidence to show that GMOs are causing any harm. I would advocate that we keep labels reserved products that we know will harm you: tobacco, peanuts, alcohol. We know there is scientific evidence that shows that those types of products can harm you, and we should reserve the labelling for that. Otherwise, we get to a place where products start to look like NASCAR cars with stickers all over them, making it very hard for you to discern exactly what you're supposed to be worried about and what you should really pay attention to. There's probably a market discipline that needs to come into play that would allow for labelling to take place.
The other challenge with labelling is less about the cost—although we've heard that argument thrown around—and more about how you regulate it once you've put a label on it. It's very easy to say it contains nothing, but how do you scientifically demonstrate that there is no trace of GMOs in a product, as you could do with peanuts? In the peanut world, you see “may contain trace elements of peanuts” or it has absolutely no peanuts.
When I used to work for the forest products industry, it had a similar challenge. It's very easy when you have a piece of lumber that comes out of a tree. You could stamp it and say that it came from this forest and that it was certified to this level. When you get into the pulp world, where you're combining chips from a number of different sources to make the pulp that makes the paper, it's very hard to make sure that all of your upstream sources are certified to the same level.
In the food world, I think it would be the same problem. You could probably certify that steak came from a cow that came from a producer. When you get into things like chips and cereals, though, that involve a number of different sources, it would be very difficult to have any certainty that you could actually put a label on that.