On a winding road on the outskirts of a small Rust Belt town in eastern Indiana, a fish hatchery is poised to raise the country’s first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, altered the genetic makeup of the Atlantic salmon to include a gene from chinook salmon and DNA sequence from an eel-like species known as an ocean pout. The result is a salmon that grows to market size about twice as fast as its natural counterpart.
The company, which already breeds the salmon in Canada, received its first batch of bioengineered eggs Wednesday at its indoor facility in Albany, Indiana, , and the first salmon fillets raised there could appear in U.S. supermarkets in late 2020. AquaBounty’s decision to raise the salmon in Indiana is a landmark moment for the Midwest, a region known globally for its agricultural prowess but one where land-based fish farming operations have struggled mightily to become profitable.
AquaBounty purchased the complex about 10 miles northeast of Muncie where yellow perch and steelhead trout had previously been raised and renovated it for Atlantic salmon.Before Wednesday’s shipment, the 16-person staff, which includes factory workers who were laid off in recent years, had been overseeing 100,000 conventional Atlantic salmon from eggs until they reach market size. With around 150,000 bioengineered eggs currently inside the facility’s incubator trays, production is expected to grow.
Commercially raising seafood, a process known as aquaculture, will be necessary to feed the planet’s growing population at a time when rising seafood demand is pitted against plateauing wild fisheries burdened by overfishing, pollution and climate change, according to industry experts. The U.S., which imports over 90% of its seafood, has lagged behind much of the world in aquaculture production, and proponents hope the introduction of genetically engineered fish might help promote the industry, relieve pressure on ocean fisheries and scale back the United States’ $16 billion seafood trade deficit.
“Because this fish grows faster, you can use the same facility and produce twice as much product, and the overhead cost is halved,” said William Muir, a professor emeritus at Purdue University who has researched genetically modified animals. “That’s really where we’re going with it: Can we produce fish more cheaply? The fact is, aquaculture is expensive and it’s not competitive with ocean-caught fish, because the ocean is free. But if you can produce salmon cheaply inland, large urban centers like Chicago would love to have fresh salmon next door.” Read the article.