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GE Salmon Company Fined Over Permit Problems in Panama

The government of Panama has revealed that, in July of this year, it levied a fine on AquaBounty Technologies, the Massachusetts-based company seeking government approval to bring the first genetically modified salmon to market in the U.S.

AquaBounty apparently did not have the necessary water use and water discharge permits necessary for running its operations in Panama, where it has a pilot facility, and total coliform bacteria were allegedly above acceptable levels.

The Panamanian government determined that the company had repeatedly violated regulations and should be issued the maximum allowable fine of $9,500.

AquaBounty says that company officials immediately contacted the proper authorities in Panama after becoming aware of the permitting failures, and that everything was squared away by August. The company also paid the fine.

“The nature of the violations had no bearing on the containment or health of our fish, or the safety of our operations,” the company said in a statement.

AquaBounty added that its facility is frequently inspected by the Panamanian government and continues to operate without any restrictions. In addition, it said that the company’s facility was built and operating before some of the permit regulations were passed.

In response to the violations and fine, U.S. consumer groups such as Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety are calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to deny AquaBounty’s application to sell GE salmon in grocery stores here.

AquaBounty’s CEO Ron Stotish told Seafoodsource that those groups were being “blatantly misleading” by implying that there is a safety issue concerning the fish when there is none.

FDA is still reviewing AquaBounty’s application. The fish is an Atlantic salmon that contains genes from a Pacific Chinook salmon and an ocean pout that allow the fish to grow to market size twice as fast.

For years, FDA has declined to provide a timeline for when the agency might make its decision. AquaBounty says it began the FDA application process in 1995.

A 2010 FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine review of the AquaBounty application concluded that the salmon was as safe to eat as Atlantic salmon and does not pose a threat to the environment. According to AquaBounty, the salmon will only grow in land-based, contained facilities and that all the fish are sterile females.

Due to consumer demand, a number of U.S. grocery retailers, including Kroger, Safeway and Target, have already pledged not to sell the AquaBounty salmon should it be approved by FDA.

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