By Elliot Entis, co-founder of AquaBounty Technologies
Natural fish stocks have been so depleted in the past few decades that more than half of the salmon we consume here in the United States comes to us from “fish farming,” 97 percent of which is imported. That’s because we consume highly-desirable fish like salmon at least twice as fast as it can reproduce in the wild.
In 1993, AquaBounty, the company I founded, began discussions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve an Atlantic salmon hybrid we developed that could grow to maturity much faster, in contained local facilities, dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of production and overfishing that plague our current salmon consumption, while helping to restore a domestic industry in the U.S.
The accelerated growth is achieved by adding a gene from the Chinook, a close relative of the Atlantic salmon, and a piece of DNA from another food fish, the ocean pout, which acts as a switch to “turn on” the Chinook salmon gene. The result is that the Atlantic salmon grows faster, and reaches harvest size in half the time while consuming less feed. Both our domestic economy and the environment gain from this advance.
Given the novelty of the product, the FDA review process uses the new animal drug (INAD) approach based on the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The new animal drug approach reviews, “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals” (FD&C Act, Ch.II, Sec.201.g).
The animal drug approval process — whether applied to a traditional drug or to a novel drug — is the gold standard around the world, and we enthusiastically support this documented, rigorous, trusted process.
The review process used by FDA on the AquAdvantage salmon is more rigorous, detailed, and extensive than that applied to any other fish in history. And now, after 15 years of testing, and reviews by dozens of scientists, the government has concluded that “Aqua Bounty salmon meets the standard of identity for Atlantic salmon as established by FDA’s Reference Fish Encyclopedia. All other assessments of composition have determined that there are no material differences in food from [AquaBounty] salmon and other Atlantic salmon.”
In other words, the “true nature” of this salmon is that it is a salmon, indistinguishable in every material aspect from any other Atlantic salmon. To suggest otherwise would be false advertising; it would suggest a difference that does not exist.
The application of technology to agriculture is nothing new. From the beginning of time, man has used selective breeding to develop heartier crops and livestock with desirable traits. Thanks to modern agriculture technologies, we can more efficiently and sustainably produce food and fiber for a growing population.
In the case of genetically engineered salmon, technology enables us to precisely apply genomic knowledge to improve the rearing of salmon and the production of a high quality food.
Today, the majority of the food we consume has been modified in some way and most contains genes from two or more species of plant or animal. Among these are farm-raised striped bass, corn, and tomatoes – none of which is specially labeled.
So if we routinely add genes from one species to another through traditional farming methods, is there a rationale for singling out this salmon from the literally thousands of other products whose genes have been altered to enhance our ability to produce tasty, plentiful, nutritious food?
If we take time to learn the facts, understand the science, and resist the temptation to rely on conjecture and emotion, we can all appreciate new advances in our ability to produce healthy, sustainable food with the confidence that it has been vetted by the scrutiny of the world’s best science.
Innovation will be key to meeting the challenges of feeding a growing world population and maintaining a strong, domestic agriculture base.