ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- It appears Canadians were among the first diners in the world to eat a genetically modified animal -- and they likely didn't know it.
U.S.-based AquaBounty Technologies said in a recent fiscal update about 4.5 tonnes of its fresh AquAdvantage salmon fillets were sold in Canada between April and June.
The company got approval from Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection agency last year to sell the product.
AquaBounty CEO Ronald Stotish said in the quarterly report released earlier this month that the Canadian distribution marked "the very first sales of AquAdvantage salmon."
"The sale and discussions with potential buyers clearly demonstrate that customers want our fish, and we look forward to increasing our production capacity to meet demand."
AquaBounty -- which has a production plant in P.E.I. -- did not say exactly where the salmon was sold. The company's spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Health Canada doesn't require labelling on genetically modified food, saying the items have been assessed for safety and nutritional standards.
AquaBounty's salmon contains genetic material from ocean pout and Chinook salmon to help it reach adult size faster.
Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, said news of the sales without advance public notice is alarming.
"It's shocking," she said from Ottawa. "Canadians are the first in the world to eat this genetically modified fish, the world's first genetically modified food animal, and they did so unknowingly. And even now that we know (it's) on the market in Canada, we don't know where or how much."
Sharratt said genetically modified foods aren't linked to specific health issues. Still, she described a gaping lack of public information.
"For 20 years, genetically modified foods have been introduced with no transparency in the marketplace but, equally, no transparency in regulation. There's very little public science. There's very little government science.
"Canadians are being asked to trust corporate data and a process that is not open for them to look at."
Sharratt said AquaBounty has moved to expand its research and egg production site in P.E.I. with a new "genetically modified fish factory" at Rollo Bay in the province.
Opponents earlier this year asked Ottawa for clarification after the P.E.I. government approved the company's request to start building the land-based facility to produce 250 tonnes of genetically modified salmon a year.
In a letter to environmental lobby groups, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said any plans to grow genetically modified salmon at the site would be subject to strict requirements.
"Should AquaBounty wish to manufacture or grow out the AquAdvantage salmon at this site, a new notification will be required pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999," she wrote.
Sharratt said she hopes that means a full assessment of any environmental risks.