Environmental groups say the first shipment of genetically modified salmon in the world arrived in Canada earlier this year and likely ended up on the plates of Quebec consumers.
An investigation by the groups found 4.5 metric tonnes of the genetically modified fillets -- previously announced by U.S.-based AquaBounty Technologies in August -- were shipped from Panama and arrived in Quebec.
"Quebec consumers are probably, unbeknownst to them, the first to eat a genetically modified animal," Thibault Rehn of the Montreal group Vigilance OGM said Thursday.
The groups said they used federal government import statistics to match claims by AquaBounty in a fiscal update that it sold fresh AquAdvantage salmon fillets between April and June of this year -- the very first sales of the product.
"That shipment is a distinct shipment in that it is more salmon than is usually sold from Panama into Canada," said Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
AquaBounty, which has a facility in P.E.I., produces its genetically modified salmon in Panama. It contains genetic material from ocean pout and chinook salmon to help it reach adult size faster.
It's unclear who purchased the Canadian shipment. Most major Quebec grocery chains such as Metro, IGA and Provigo have said they don't sell genetically modified products at their seafood counters, while Canada-wide retail chains such as Costco, Walmart and Loblaw have also said they don't plan to sell it.
"It could have gone anywhere, it could have gone to restaurants or hospitals or universities through food service companies," Sharratt said.
AquaBounty received approval from Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency last year to sell the product.
Health Canada doesn't require labelling on genetically modified food, saying the items have been assessed for safety and nutritional standards.
But environmental groups argue the vast majority of consumers want to know what they are eating.
"Canadians don't know where genetically modified foods are being sold, there is no labelling for genetically modified foods including this salmon," Sharratt said.
Rehn said he'd like the Quebec government to uphold a promise made by the Liberals in 2003 to label genetically modified foods.
The province is currently working on its food policy with a summit scheduled for Nov. 17 in Quebec City.