Indiana fish farm produces genetically modified salmon

As demand for seafood grows, including across Indiana, a remote farm is harvesting thousands of pounds of salmon every year — on land. But the genetically modified fish teeming in the Albany, Indiana, tanks are continuing to draw pushback from environmental advocates who say the “Frankenfish” threaten local ecosystems and are not a sustainable food source.

Engineered by biotech company AquaBounty Technologies, the “AquAdvantage” salmon is the first such altered animal to be cleared for human consumption in the United States.

A boycott against the salmon has largely come from activists with the Block Corporate Salmon campaign, which aims to protect wild salmon and preserve Indigenous rights to practice sustainable fishing.

The group’s latest protest materialized at last month’s Farm Aid benefit concert, held in Noblesville, Indiana.

“Our food systems don’t stop at the water’s edge, especially when billions of people around the world rely on aquatic foods as a major source of protein,” said Jim Goodman, president of the National Family Farm Coalition. “(Genetically engineered) salmon should concern us all, as it further entrenches the commodification and proprietary patenting of our food. Food is a basic human right — not a tool for building Big Ag empires.”

AquaBounty continues to refute those claims, however, saying it raises fresh Atlantic salmon “in a safe, secure, and sustainable way.”

“Our highly controlled land-based farms and robust mitigation measures, approved by federal regulators, have been in use in our facilities for more than 20 years to help prevent any impacts, however unlikely, to the environment, endangered species, or wild fish populations. Additionally, our AquaBounty production salmon are female, sterile and unable to reproduce, providing an additional and redundant biological barrier to protect wild salmon,” AquaBounty CEO Sylvia Wulf said in a statement.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that — based on the multiple forms of physical and biological containment used by AquaBounty — there is an “extremely low likelihood” that AquAdvantage Salmon could escape into the environments surrounding the Albany facility and survive within a waterway.

The company’s land-based farms use recirculated water and “don’t contribute to ocean pollution or harm sensitive ocean habitats which are so important to wild salmon,” Wulf added. She additionally emphasized that AquaBounty is able to provide a domestic source of salmon that is produced in a highly controlled, bio-secure environment.

“To meet the growing demand, innovative approaches like AquaBounty’s are an important solution to address the supply gap in a safe, secure and sustainable manner.”

AquaBounty raises its faster-growing salmon at an indoor aquaculture farm. The fish are genetically modified to grow twice as fast as wild salmon, reaching market size — 8 to 12 pounds — in 18 months rather than 36.

The FDA approved the AquAdvantage Salmon as “safe and effective” in 2015. It was the only genetically modified animal approved for human consumption until federal regulators approved a genetically modified pig for food and medical products in December 2020.

In 2018, the federal agency greenlit AquaBounty’s sprawling Indiana facility, which as of last December was raising roughly 492 metric tons of salmon from eggs imported from Canada but is capable of raising more than twice that amount. The company is currently making improvements to its Indiana production facility. Once completed, salmon harvests are expected to increase.

The inaugural harvest of genetically modified salmon commenced in May 2021.

Company officials previously said the salmon would be sent to restaurants and away-from-home dining services — where labeling as genetically engineered is not required — in the Midwest and along the East Coast.

Details about AquaBounty’s specific customers have remained scarce, however.

So far, the only buyer to announce it is selling the salmon is Samuels and Son Seafood, a Philadelphia-based seafood distributor which sells to restaurants in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

To ensure that genetically modified salmon are distinguishable in the marketplace, Congress passed a law in 2016 mandating certain labeling requirements.

Starting in 2022, if it’s sold in the grocery store, AquAdvantage Salmon must include a seal that says “bioengineered.” The product could also include a link or QR code pointing to that information. Restaurants, where the salmon is likely currently sold, are exempt from disclosure, though.

But in a shifting domestic market that increasingly values origin, health and sustainability, and wild over farmed seafood, others are more critical of the salmon.

“AquaBounty misrepresents its system to raise salmon in tanks that they claim will be recirculating water,” said Jaydee Hanson, policy director of Center for Food Safety. “In fact, their operations literally mine water, foul it with salmon feces, and dump it into the nearest river. They have a serious problem of illness in their chronically inflamed fish. They are not disclosing how many antibiotics they use.”

Representatives from the Block Corporate Salmon campaign additionally spoke out against a new salmon farm AquaBounty is planning in Ohio. Executives said that facility could produce 10,000 tons of salmon per year, although higher-than-expected construction costs has stalled progress at the site, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

“No one can guarantee that AquaBounty’s operations will not impact our drinking water. At its proposed facility in (Pioneer, Ohio), AquaBounty intends to pump more than 5 million gallons of water from the Michindoh Aquifer, and dump just under that into the nearby St. Joseph River, every day,” said Sherry Fleming, an organizer with the Williams County Alliance who is fighting AquaBounty’s proposed facility in Ohio. She further noted that the Michindoh Aquifer is a key source of drinking water to communities in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, and the St. Joseph River supplies water to hundreds of thousands of people in Fort Wayne.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, donor-funded news organization, affiliated with the Alaska Beacon. Alaskabeacon.com.

 

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