Canada approved a type of genetically modified salmon for sale, health officials said on Thursday, the first such animal to be cleared as safe for consumption in the country.

The salmon was approved in the United States to be farmed for human consumption last year but has since been a source of controversy. Environmentalists sued U.S. health regulators this year to try to overturn the decision.

Canadian activist groups expressed their concerns following the approval, saying the government should establish mandatory labeling of all genetically modified foods. Some are concerned they may pose risks to the environment or to health.

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said that the AquAdvantage salmon developed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies had been found to be as safe and nutritious as conventional salmon for food and livestock feed.

These were the final scientific assessments by the government required to allow the salmon to be sold in Canada, the agencies said.

Nonetheless, the salmon is still more than 18 months away from coming to market, Health Minister Jane Philpott said.

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