Indiana fish farm producing nation’s first GMO animal for human consumption

ALBANY, Ind. -- It's the country's first genetically modified animal approved for consumption, and it's growing in Albany, Indiana.

AquaBounty Technologies is producing GMO salmon, and it could be hitting the market next year. Their fish farm off of E. Gregory Road received a shipment of roughly 90,000 bio-engineered eggs last month. Since then, the salmon have hatched.

The technology company believes they should be ready for harvest in late 2020. President and CEO Sylvia Wulf said these fish grow faster than conventional salmon, but they will not be larger or taste different.

"I think about food insecurity and climate change, and using genetic modification and gene editing allows us to meet those challenges," she said.

In 2015, AquaBounty received FDA approval for the first genetically modified animal for human consumption. Health Canada approved the fish in 2016.

Canadian researchers created the fast-growing genetically engineered salmon with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and a gene promoter from ocean pout. They micro-injected the transgene into fertilized eggs of wild Atlantic salmon and characterized the insertion.

Wulf said they have been working for approval for almost 30 years, when the technology was first developed. She said it took so long because they were the first company to go through this specific process.

"The testing they put us through and the requirements we had to meet guarantees the safety of the fish to human, the animal welfare of that fish and environmental safety," she said.

Bob Rode, a lab manager at Purdue University with a background in fish farming, is not concerned about the product either. He thinks it could encourage other companies to follow AquaBounty.

"Can other facilities produce salmon this way? And number two, can animal industries use this technology to increase their production and efficiency?" Rode asked.

Wulf said they are looking to sell their fish through a number of different channels, like retail grocery stores, restaurants, and schools.

It is not coming without some push back. In 2016, a coalition of environmental groups, including the Center for Food Safety, sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approving the bio engineered salmon.

“FDA’s decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GE fish, harms FDA refused to even consider, let alone prevent. But it’s also about the future of our food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GE animal, nor any future GE animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law.”

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