INDIANAPOLIS – The inaugural harvest of genetically modified salmon began this week after the pandemic delayed the sale of the first such altered animal to be cleared for human consumption in the United States, company officials said.
Several tons of salmon, designed by biotech company AquaBounty Technologies Inc., will now be heading to restaurants and home food services – where labeling as genetically modified is not required – in the Midwest and along the east coast, company CEO Sylvia Wulf mentioned.
So far, the only customer to announce that they sell salmon is Samuels and Son Seafood, a seafood distributor based in Philadelphia.
AquaBounty raised their fastest growing salmon on an indoor aquaculture farm in Albany, Indiana. The fish are genetically engineered to grow twice as fast as wild salmon, reaching market size – 8 to 12 pounds – in 18 months instead of 36.
The Massachusetts-based company initially planned to harvest the fish in late 2020. Wulf attributed the delays to declining demand and market prices for Atlantic salmon spurred by the pandemic.
“The impact of COVID caused us to rethink our original schedule… then no one was looking for salmon anymore,” she said. “We’re very excited about it now. We have synchronized the harvest with the recovery of the economy, and we know that demand will continue to increase.
Although it’s finally making its way onto the dinner table, genetically modified fish have been shunned by conservationists for years.
International foodservice company Aramark announced in January its commitment not to sell such salmon, citing environmental concerns and potential impacts on indigenous communities that harvest wild salmon.
The announcement follows other similar announcements from other major foodservice companies – Compass Group and Sodexo – and many major US grocery retailers, seafood companies and restaurants. Costco, Kroger, Walmart and Whole Foods claim they don’t sell genetically modified or cloned salmon and should label them as such.
Much of the AquaBounty boycott of salmon is the work of activists in the Block Corporate Salmon campaign, which aims to protect wild salmon and uphold Indigenous rights to sustainable fishing.
“Genetically modified salmon are a huge threat to any vision of a healthy food system. People need ways to connect with the food they eat, so they know where it’s coming from, ”said Jon Russell, campaign member and food justice organizer with the Northwest Atlantic Marine. Alliance. “These fish are so new – and there is such a loud group of people opposing them. This is a huge red flag for consumers.
Wulf said she was convinced there was an appetite for fish.
“Most of the salmon from this country is imported, and during the pandemic we were unable to bring any product to market,” Wulf said. “So having a national source of supply that is not seasonal like wild salmon and that is produced in a highly controlled and biosecure environment is increasingly important to consumers. “
AquaBounty markets salmon as disease and antibiotic free, claiming that its product has a reduced carbon footprint and no risk of pollution of marine ecosystems like traditional sea cage farming.
Despite their rapid growth, genetically engineered salmon require less food than most farmed Atlantic salmon, according to the company. Biofiltration units keep the water clean in the Indiana facility’s many 70,000-gallon tanks, making fish less likely to get sick or require antibiotics.
The FDA approved AquAdvantage salmon as “safe and effective” in 2015. It was the only genetically modified animal approved for human consumption until federal regulators approved a genetically modified pork for food and medical products. in December.
In 2018, the federal agency gave the green light to the sprawling AquaBounty facility in Indiana, which currently raises around 450 tonnes of salmon from eggs imported from Canada, but is capable of raising more than double that amount.
But in a changing domestic market that increasingly values origin, health and sustainability, and wild rather than farmed seafood, others have a different take on salmon, which some critics have dubbed “Frankenfish”.
Part of the national pushback revolves around how modified fish should be labeled according to FDA guidelines. Salmon fishermen, fish farmers, wholesalers and other stakeholders want clear labeling practices to make sure customers know they are buying a manufactured product.
The USDA labeling law requires companies to disclose genetically modified ingredients in foods using a QR code, display of text on the package, or a designated symbol. Mandatory compliance with this regulation takes full effect in January, but the rules do not apply to restaurants or food services.
Wulf said the company is committed to using “genetically modified” labeling when its fish are sold in grocery stores in the coming months.
In November, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco asserted that the FDA had the power to oversee genetically modified animals and fish. But he ruled that the agency had not properly assessed the environmental consequences of the AquaBounty salmon leak into the wild.
The company argued that a leak is unlikely, saying the fish are monitored around the clock and confined in tanks with screens, screens, netting, pumps and chemical disinfection to prevent any leaks. The company’s salmon are also female and sterile, preventing them from mating.
“Our fish are actually designed to thrive in the terrestrial environment. That’s part of what makes them unique, ”said Wulf. “And we’re proud of the fact that genetic engineering allows us to bring more healthy nutritional products to market in a safe, secure and sustainable way. “
The Associated Press / Report for America