As people become more skeptical of the ways science intrudes on the content of their food, controversial products like genetically modified crops face increasing opposition. That’s bad news for AquaBounty Technologies, a company that has been producing genetically modified salmon for more than 20 years. Called the AquAdvantage, the fish reach market size in two years rather than three. In order to engineer the salmon, scientists combine the gene of a large Chinook salmon with a gene from a fast-growing eel-like creature called the ocean pout. The superfish could save salmon farmers as much as 25 cents per pound, a considerable amount given that their profits average to less than $1 per pound.
However, it’s unlikely that the AquAdvantage fish will be available at supermarkets anytime soon. AquaBounty first applied for FDA approval in 1993, two years after its founding. More than twenty years later, the company isn’t any closer to obtaining clearance. As a result, AquaBounty loses nearly $5 million every year and has dumped more than 62 tons of edible salmon into a landfill near its test facility in Panama. Environmental groups have criticized the company for years, specifically citing the ruinous effects the AquaAdvantage fish could have on the greater salmon population if any managed to escape.
AquaBounty stands by its safety precautions, though. Unlike normal salmon hatcheries that recirculate water through open troughs, AquaBounty filters and screens its water four times before it is released into the ocean. Not only does this ensure that the super salmon stay put, it also prevents waste from getting flushed into the environment. What’s more, all AquAdvantage fish are females, making breeding impossible. Nevertheless, even if AquaBounty managed to obtain FDA approval at last, the company would face another lengthy battle simply finding a store to stock the fish. 65 supermarkets have signed a pledge not to carry genetically modified salmon, including heavyweights like Safeway and Trader Joe’s. So for the time being it looks like AquaBounty will have to continue swimming upstream until attitudes towards genetically modified foods change.
- Is the Food and Drug Administration’s ban fair to AquaAdvantaage?
- Are AquaBounty’s safety precautions socially responsible?
Source: Brendan Borrell, “Why Won’t the Government Let You Eat Superfish?” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, May 22, 2014. Photo by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.