When we think of genetically modified organisms we tend to talk about corn and soybeans. But aquaculture is turning out GMOs in the shape of salmon. Genetically engineered by AquaBounty Technologies, it has taken a decade to finally get this close to being given the green light as a safe food.
AquaBounty GMO is branded the AquAdvantage Fish, a modified Atlantic salmon containing the growth hormone gene from the Pacific Chinook salmon, and a genetic switch from another fish, the ocean pout. The switch accelerates the salmon’s growth shortening the amount of time it takes to add weight so that the fish can be harvested in about half the time (see the growth curve graph below).
For environmentalists there are always concerns about genetically manipulating animals from the wild and the unforeseen consequences of such acts. But a bigger concern is the fear that GMO salmon could escape from fish farms and interbreed with wild Atlantic salmon. Because of this each AquAdvantage Fish is a sterile female incapable of reproduction.
AquaBounty’s produces the AquAdvantage Fish eggs at its facilities in Prince Edward Island in Eastern Canada. The eggs are then transported to Panama where they are raised in inland tanks featuring multiple barriers to block the fish from escaping to open water where there chances of survival would be small because the fish are are conditioned to thrive in colder, less salty ocean water such as that found in the North Atlantic, and not the warm, salty waters of the Caribbean and Equatorial Pacific Ocean.
If approvals go ahead, AquaBounty intends to market AquAdvantage Fish globally as an alternative to coastal fish farms. It hopes its Panamanian model using land-based growing facilities will eliminate the environmental challenges of current aquaculture practices such as the spread of sea lice from domestic to wild salmon, and the coastal pollution caused by food and excrement from raising fish in close quarters.
AquaBounty is also working to establish GMO trout and shrimp to improve production of these popular farmed species with a goal of faster growth yields with fewer environmental concerns. Read the Frequently Asked Questions page at AquaBounty. It addresses so many of the questions and concerns that get raised anytime GMO enters a conversation. If the FDA approvals come through in 2013, GMO salmon will be coming to a restaurant or supermarket near you in the not too distant future.
To all who celebrate at this time of year I wish you a Happy Christmas, the best of the season, and a healthy and prosperous New Year in the coming week.
A final note on Christmas and snow….we almost made white Christmas here in Toronto when a small amount of snow fell on Christmas Eve but it didn’t quite reach 2 centimeters in depth, the common standard used to define White versus Green Christmases. But tomorrow on Boxing Day, a Canadian post-Christmas holiday for those of you in the United States who may be unfamiliar with the tradition, we will get inundated here in Toronto with up to 20 centimeters of the white stuff. This is something we haven’t seen for several years and it will be both welcome and unwelcome. Snow can truly be a gift at this time of year when we have the shortest amount of daylight. It turns the dark at night into a snowy and bright wonderland! And with so many houses in my neighborhood sporting Christmas lights, the combination will make for a great backdrop for a nighttime walk with my dog, Maya!
Once again, thanks for dropping by and please keep coming back when you can.