A biotechnology company is upgrading a defunct fish farm where it plans to grow AquAdvantage Salmon — the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption as food.
“Our business plan contemplates that we will initially establish two production facilities to prove the economic benefit and consumer acceptance for our product,” AquaBounty Technologies, Maynard, Mass., said in its 2017 annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The company is building a 250-metric ton (551,156 pounds annually) production unit in Rollo Bay, Prince Edward Island, Canada, and is upgrading the former Bell Aquaculture fish farm in Albany to increase production to 1,200 metric tons (2,645,547 pounds) a year.
“Both of these facilities must be approved by the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) prior to their initial stocking with AquAdvantage Salmon, but we anticipate both to be operational in 2018 with a first harvest of commercial production in late 2019,” the company reported.
In January, the company issued an underwritten public offering of common stock to raise funds for the Albany and Rollo Bay grow-out facilities. “We raised $10.6 million after expenses on the recent stock offering,” Conley said. Aqua Bounty is also scaling up egg production with construction of a new broodstock facility at Rollo Bay.
AquAdvantage Salmon integrates a Pacific Chinook salmon growth-hormone gene into the genome of an Atlantic salmon. The Chinook gene is under the control of a “promoter” from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout.
The FDA determined in 2015 that AquAdvantage Salmon was as safe to eat as non-genetically engineered salmon: “Data demonstrated that the inserted genes remained stable over several generations of fish, that food from the GE (genetically engineered) salmon is safe to eat by humans and animals, that the genetic engineering is safe for the fish, and the salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth.”
AquAdvantage Salmon grow to market size faster than conventional Atlantic salmon and require less feed.
(Previously, in 2009, the FDA approved a GE goat that produced a human biopharmaceutical in its milk. In December of 2015, a month after approving a GE salmon, the FDA approved a GE chicken that produces a human biopharmaceutical in its eggs).
Julia Putnam, a spokesperson for the FDA, recently told The Star Press via email: “The current FDA approval of … AquAdvantage Salmon only covers production of the salmon at facilities in Canada and Panama. AquaBounty’s Indiana facility is not currently an FDA approved facility for production of GE salmon in the U.S. Before the company can produce GE salmon in the U.S., it would need to obtain prior FDA approval. Please note that the FDA cannot confirm nor comment on the existence of any pending applications.
“In response to the specific provision in the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act, on January 29, 2016, the FDA issued an Import Alert for genetically engineered (GE) salmon. This Import Alert remains in effect today and prohibits the import of GE salmon into the U.S.”
Four years ago, the director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture said Bell Aquaculture in Albany stood at the forefront of making Indiana a global leader in aquaculture. The company had just invested $30 million in a new feed mill at its indoor farm that raised perch, rainbow trout and coho salmon in several dozen indoor tanks, each containing 70,000 gallons of water.
Then Bell, which reportedly had invested nearly $100 million into research and development in addition to its state-of-the-art facility, faced a series of lawsuits in 2015 and 2016, including complaints for unpaid debts. The facility was sold to Aqua Bounty for $14 million last year.
Since 2008, Aqua Bounty has focused on the regulatory approval of its product, which it achieved in the U.S. in 2015 and in Canada the following year.
The company has experienced significant losses since forming in 1991.
“We expect to continue to incur significant losses for the foreseeable future, and we may never achieve or maintain profitability,” the company said in its annual report. “We have made our first sales of AquAdvantage Salmon from our farm site in Panama and expect modest revenues during 2018, with more significant revenues expected in the second half of 2019 once our facilities in Indiana and on Prince Edward Island are in full production.”
For the years ending Dec. 31, 2017, 2016, and 2015, the company experienced net losses of $9.3 million, $8.5 million and $7.0 million, respectively.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recommends consumers say “no, thanks” to farmed salmon unless it’s farmed in indoor recirculating tanks (like the Aqua Bounty facilities in Albany and Rollo Bay); farmed by Salten Aqua Group in the Skjerstadfjorden, Nordland, Norway; sold under the brand names Verlasso, Sixty South or Blue Circle Foods; farmed in Maine, British Columbia or Scotland’s Orkney Islands; or eco-certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.
Other highlights from Aqua Bounty’s annual report:
- Activist groups opposing genetic modifications of organisms have pressured a number of retail food outlets and grocery chains to publicly state they will not carry genetically modified Atlantic salmon. “To date, large wholesalers have not followed the example of these retailers, and we believe that there will be sufficient demand from smaller retailers, wholesalers and institutional seafood buyers to absorb our projected production.”
- In 2016, the United States imported a record 619 million pounds of Atlantic salmon valued at $2.66 billion. More than three-fourths of imports originated in Canada and Chile. The Atlantic salmon farming industry in the U.S. contracted significantly beginning in the 1990s in the face of environmental concerns and lower costs of production from foreign sources, notably Chile.
- “Consumer acceptance could also be adversely affected if AquAdvantage Salmon were found or believed to grow to a larger final size than traditional Atlantic salmon … Internally generated data has shown that, although AquAdvantage Salmon exhibit an accelerated growth rate in early development stages, they do not grow to a larger end size than conventional Atlantic salmon.”
- The 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act included an amendment directing FDA to issue final guidance for labeling AquAdvantage Salmon as a genetically modified organism (GMO), despite the absence of any GMO labeling requirement by the FDA. Given this directive, FDA issued an Import Alert on AquAdvantage Salmon. The amendment was due to expire on Sept. 30, 2016, but has been renewed through a series of continuing resolutions to March 23, 2018. There is no certainty as to when or if the Import Alert will be lifted or when FDA will finalize it guidance.
-Written by Seth Slabaugh in Star Press. He is an environment reporter who can be reached at (765) 213-5834 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See original article link here.