Fast growing AquAdvantage Atlantic Salmon approved by FDA for human consumption after 20 years of review

Genetically engineered AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon grow to twice the size of an normal Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) over the same time. The FDA approved the AquAdvantage as the first genetically engineered animal to be approved for human consumption in the United States.

AquaBounty’s driving force is the belief that modern genetics, married with land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), can spur a radically more responsible and sustainable way of growing Atlantic salmon.

The innovative faster growing AquAdvantage Salmon, which would shorten production cycles by half and drastically reduce feed costs, could finally make land-based fish farming economically viable.

Courtesy of Kruger Kaldnes RAS and Veolia Water Technologies

The Greenest Fish Farming Method —Land-Based Aquaculture

The second innovation driving AquaBounty’s vision is the development of land-based recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS for short. While farming salmon in sea cages is less expensive and less technologically complex than a land-based farm, land-based salmon farming eliminates many of the environmental problems with net-pen farms. Sea cages are susceptible to a number of hazards such as violent storms, predators, harmful algal blooms, jellyfish attacks, and the transmission of pathogens and parasites from wild fish populations passing close to the sea cages. All of these hazards can cause significant fish losses over the course of the 32-36-month production cycle.

Some fish farmers, research scientists and engineers looked at the technology used in public aquarium facilities and human waste-water treatment facilities with the idea that the technology could be applied to large-scale commercial seafood production on land. Over the last 30 years, the technology to farm fish on land has come a long way. So much so that some fish farmers are developing large RAS facilities to grow a variety of species, from salmon, trout and sturgeon to perch, shrimp and even lobster.

20 years to approve fish where similar fish ended being bred anyway. Do we really care about feeding the world’s hungry or making nutritious food cheaper for the poor ?

The landmark decision by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) releases the ‘AquAdvantage’ salmon from two decades of regulatory limbo — but it could also revitalize an industry that has waited a long time for any sign that its products might make it to market.

“It opens up the possibility of harnessing this technology,” says Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal geneticist at the University of California, Davis. “The regulatory roadblock had really been disincentivizing the world from using it.”

AquAdvantage fish produce extra growth hormone, allowing them to grow to market size in 18 months, rather than the usual 3 years. In the time since AquaBounty first filed for approval, fisheries have bred conventional salmon that grow just as fast, says Scott Fahrenkrug, chief executive of Recombinetics, an animal-biotechnology firm in St Paul, Minnesota.

A growth hormone-regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter from an ocean pout were added to the Atlantic’s 40,000 genes. These genes enable it to grow year-round instead of only during spring and summer. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows, without affecting its ultimate size or other qualities.

Commercial aquaculture is the most rapidly growing segment of the agricultural industry, accounting for more than 60 million tons in 2012, versus 90 million tons of wild-caught fish. That year, aquaculture output exceeded beef output for the first time. While land-based agriculture is increasing between 2% and 3% per year, aquaculture has been growing at an average rate around 9% per year since 1970. As of 2011, salmon aquaculture produced 1.9 million tons of fish