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Transgenic salmon: coming soon to a store near you?

AquAdvantage salmon may be first genetically modified animal approved as food

Last Updated: Oct 27, 2011

AquaBounty Technologies, an American company with operations in Prince Edward Island, is awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for commercial sale of its genetically modified salmon. If approved, it would be the first genetically modified animal to reach our dinner plates. John Buchanan, director of research and development for AquaBounty, told CBC News that its AquAdvantage salmon is "the most studied line of fish ever." The fish grows at about twice the natural rate, reaching maturity in 1 1/2 to two years. Both salmon are about the same size when fully grown.

AquaBounty: A history

AquaBounty Technologies started in 1991 as A/F Protein. The initial focus was a protein technology that would help farmed fish better withstand sub-zero waters.

In 1996, A/F Protein licensed the AquAdvantage technology from the University of Toronto and Memorial University in Newfoundland. The technology modifies fish at the molecular level to speed growth in early development.

In 2000, the company reorganized into two separate entities — A/F Protein (which retained the antifreeze protein technology) and AquaBounty Farms (which would develop AquAdvantage).

The Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Farms changed its name to AquaBounty Technologies in 2004 and, in 2006, got a listing on the London Stock Exchange's Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

In September 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the company's genetically modified salmon was safe for human consumption, and began a 60-day consultation process aimed at securing an official FDA endorsement. Just over a year later, however, the FDA has yet to approve the AquAdvantage technology.

In September of 2011, AquaBounty received a $500,000 research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, despite reports that the company recorded a net operating loss of $2.8m for the first six months of 2011.



The concerns and advantages of AquAdvantage salmon


AquAdvantage salmon has been genetically modified and some people say there have been problems with genetically modified crops.

"There is zero evidence that genetically modified crops hurt people." — Bob McDonald, Quirks and Quarks host (Video in right column)



"People don't trust the fish and they don't want it on their plates." — Eric Hoffman, Friends of the Earth

"The FDA has effectively said that from a scientific perspective there is no concern for human health." — Tillman Benfey, University of New Brunswick biology professor

'Frankenfish' concern international delegation



"It is possible for the genetic modification to enter wild populations through sexual reproduction if reproductively viable GM Atlantic salmon escape into the native range of Atlantic salmon. They cannot breed successfully with Pacific salmonid species." — Darek Moreau, Memorial University

AquaBounty, the company that plans to bring these salmon to market, has stated that the salmon from their eggs will be grown in land-based, inland tanks and therefore unable to escape into the wild. Also, because of the breeding process, almost all the fish will be sterile females.

GM salmon could breed in the wild, study shows - Technology & Science - CBC News



"We have a deep and abiding concern that the FDA is the inappropriate agency to be determining whether or not there are environmental risks associated with the production of genetically-modified salmon." — Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited

The FDA ruled in September 2010 that AquAdvantage salmon is safe to eat.

Genetically modified fish lawsuit threatened



P.E.I. "will indeed become known around the world as the home of the Frankenfish." — Leo Broderick, Council of Canadians

Is P.E.I. "going to actually be a place to develop new technologies and take them to the world marketplace?" — Rory Francis, P.E.I. BioAlliance

GMO salmon farm called 'drug factory'



AquaBounty plans to sell its genetically modified salmon eggs to any approved fish farmer, in "multiple locations, with different environmental conditions, where there's no monitoring and enforcement of containment on inland facilities." — Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network

AquaBounty says an environmental assessment would have to be done on each fish farm location, and be reviewed and approved. Also, the sites would be inspected to ensure the fish farmer was complying with the conditions for growing these fish, such as proper containment. "This is not something new or novel. It's something people know how to do and can be done." — Ron Stotish, CEO, AquaBounty Technologies

GMO salmon egg sales plan alarms environmentalists



Farm salmon need to be fed wild fish, and that may exacerbate problems with over-fishing in some places. — Martin Smith, Duke University environmental economics professor

Genetically modified fish review flawed: economist



Salmon populations are under pressure from over-fishing and habitat loss and aquaculture reduces those pressures. — John Buchanan, AquaBounty director of research and development

Making sense of 'Frankenfish'



There are animal rights concerns about breeding fish in unpleasant, tight confines.

Making sense of 'Frankenfish'



"It's much more environmentally friendly to grow this fish than typical farmed salmon." — John Buchanan, AquaBounty director of research and development

Buchanan notes these concerns: "fish escaping and interbreeding with wild populations, establishing their own populations, disease transfer from the farmed fish to the wild fish, antibiotics getting into the environment and even just use of coastal resources." He argues, "land-based salmon production solves many of these problems."

Making sense of 'Frankenfish'



The fish could be more allergenic because of its varied genes.

"Even in terms of allergenicity, our data certainly supports that there is no problem and the FDA concluded that there is nothing biologically concerning." — John Buchanan, AquaBounty

Making sense of 'Frankenfish'



StarLink corn
In 2000, StarLink corn, a genetically engineered strain not fit for human consumption but approved for use in animal feed, found its way into foods products, including Taco Bell taco shells in the United States. The consumer and regulatory backlash put increased scrutiny on genetically modified foods in the U.S. and caused some developing countries to turn away food aid, fearing StarLink contamination.

Herbicide-resistant crops
Roundup Ready crops, which are genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, allow farmers to control weeds with the herbicide, without harming the crops themselves. Now, however, "superweeds" resistant to glyphosate, also known by the trade name Roundup, have infested millions of hectares of cropland through much of the U.S. and areas of southwestern Ontario.

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