The inaugural harvest of genetically modified salmon began this week after the pandemic delayed the sale of the first such modified 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 out-of-home food services – where labeling as genetically modified is not required – in the Midwest and along from 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 (3.6 to 5.4 kilograms) – in 18 months instead of 36.
The Massachusetts company had originally planned to harvest the fish in late 2020. Wulf attributed the delays to falling demand and market prices for Atlantic salmon spurred by the pandemic.
“The impact of COVID caused us to rethink our original schedule … no one was looking for salmon anymore at the time,” she said. “We’re very excited about it now. We’ve timed the harvest with the economy picking up, and we know demand will continue to rise.”
Although eventually made its way to the plate, genetically engineered fish has been shunned by conservationists for years.
International foodservice company Aramark announced in January its pledge not to sell this salmon, citing environmental concerns and potential impacts on indigenous communities that harvest wild salmon.
The announcement followed similar announcements from other major foodservice companies – Compass Group and Sodexo – and many major US food retailers, seafood companies and restaurants. Costco, Kroger, Walmart and Whole Foods argue that 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 engineered salmon is 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 for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. . there is such a loud group of people opposing it. It’s 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 weren’t able to bring any product to market,” Wulf said. “As such, it is increasingly important for consumers to have a domestic source of supply that is not seasonal like wild salmon and that is produced in a highly controlled and biosecure environment.
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 feed than most farmed Atlantic salmon, according to the company. Biofiltration units keep the water clean in the Indiana facility’s many 70,000 gallon (264,979 liter) tanks, making fish less likely to get sick or need 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 lit up the sprawling AquaBounty facility in Indiana, which currently grows about 450 tonnes (408 metric tonnes) of salmon from eggs imported from Canada, but is capable of harvesting more than double that amount.
But in a changing internal market that increasingly values origin, health and sustainability, and nature over farmed seafood, others have a different take on salmon, which some critics have said. nicknamed “Frankenfish”.
Part of the national crackdown revolves around how modified fish should be labeled according to FDA guidelines. Salmon fishermen, fish farmers, wholesalers and others want clear labeling practices to ensure 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 comes into 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 the escape was unlikely, saying the fish were monitored around the clock and confined in tanks with screens, grids, netting, pumps and chemical disinfection to prevent leakage. The company’s salmon are also female and sterile, preventing them from mating.
“Our fish are actually designed to thrive in the terrestrial environment. It’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.”
Casey Smith is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative Corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on secret issues.