Breeding a New Industry

By Mitch Lyons, University of Saskatchewan Student

 

The AquAdvantage salmon is a genetically engineered Atlantic salmon which can grow to market size in half the time of a regular Atlantic salmon. This salmon’s genome has been altered by the insertion of a promoter sequence of DNA that act like an on-switch, attached to the growth hormone of the Chinook salmon. This addition allows the fish to grow all year round rather than just during spring and summer, growing to market size in 16-18 months using 25% less food, compared to a traditionally farmed salmon which can take up to three years.  Developed in 1989, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t approve it to be sold as food or feed in the United States until November 19th, 2015. A month later, the US government banned the importation of the fish until the FDA has made labeling requirements for this product (Waltz, 2016).

It wasn’t until May of 2016, that health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) approved the production, sale and consumption of the AquAdvantage salmon. Although, many consumers have concerns regarding the health and safety of eating genetically engineered fish, Health Canada and the CFIA have found there to be no difference in the nutritional quality or composition compared to conventionally farmed salmon. People also have expressed concerns over potential environmental impacts that these fish may have on ocean populations. These are genuine concerns for the uninformed consumer. But when we see that there is no possible escape for these salmon and that there have been no negative results on health done on short term and long term studies, there should be no concern about these fish.

Health and Safety

  • This is not a natural food; it must be terrible for humans to consume right?

Health Canada’s rigorous research has found that the only difference between AquAdvantage salmon and traditionally farmed Atlantic salmon was the length of time at which they grow. There are no differences in the nutritional value of the two products. As a result, Health Canada will not require special labelling for this product as they stated “in this case, given that no health and safety concerns were identified, there are no special labelling requirements for AquAdavantage Salmon.”   Health Canada approved the hatchery production of these salmon’s eggs in November 2013 and in May of 2016 Canada approved the salmon for production, sale and consumption. The only perceivable difference between eating that and farmed salmon from the coast of Canada will be the level freshness.

In addition to Health Canada’s approvals for commercial production and consumption, the CFIA in May 2016 also approved the use of AquAdvantage Salmon for livestock feed. This means not only is it a safe product for animals, it also helps reduce the waste from processing.

Environment and Sustainability

  • What if these fish that grow at least twice as fast as wild salmon got out into the wild?

The chances of these fish getting out into the wild are extremely slim and I’ll tell you why. The egg production facility is located on land in Prince Edward Island (PEI) using a technology called Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS). This land-based system of RAS can be set up anywhere with a water source, including right next to large metropolitan areas. Water used to culture (grow) the fish is filtered to extract the waste products from the fishes tank and 99% of the water is reused, making it very environmentally sustainable. The extracted waste and water are high in nutrients, allowing it to be used by gardeners, vegetable farmer or greenhouse growers. Before leaving the egg production site, the eggs are tested to meet the FDA standards, that all eggs must produce a female and at least 95% must be triploid (meaning they cannot reproduce). However, the company claims they are currently producing eggs at 99.8%. From PEI the all-female sterile eggs will be flown to a land-based grow-out facility in Panama, which also uses RAS technology. Terms of the US FDA approval regulate that “ocean net pens are not authorized for any use of any life stage or ploidy of genetically engineered Atlantic salmon leading to the production of [AquAdvantage salmon.]” Thus rendering the environmental impact almost harmless and the possibility of escaped salmon near impossible.

Conclusion

After 20 years of trying to get this product approved for sale, it is long overdue for this product to reach the market. The AquAdvantage salmon is a safe, environmentally friendly option to help drastically reduce the fishing pressure off of wild salmon stocks and provide families with a safe, excellent, relatively inexpensive option for fish.

Reference
  1. Aquabounty Technologies Inc. https://aquabounty.com
  2. United States Food and Drug Administration http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/GeneticEngineering/GeneticallyEngineeredAnimals/ucm466214.htm
  3. Waltz, Emily. Nature Biotechnology. 2016. Volume 34. Pp 7-9. GM salmon declared fit for dinner plates. http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v34/n1/full/nbt0116-7a.html *USASK internet required for access*
  4. Health Canada. Food and Nutrition. GM foods and other novel foods. Approved products. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/gmf-agm/appro/aquadvantage-salmon-saumon-eng.php
  5. Health Canada. Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency approve AquAdvantage Salmon. http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1068309&tp=980
  6. Center for Food Safety. http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/4166/major-japanese-and-american-consumer-groups-oppose-genetically-engineered-salmon#

 

Mitch Lyons

Mitch has finished his third year at the University of Saskatchewan and his first year in the Agribusiness program. Outside of school, Mitch spends most of his time training and playing with the Huskies Football team. He chose to major in Agribusiness because he wants to be a part of the solution to feed a growing population.

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