The first-ever genetically modified salmon will soon appear on dinner plates in the US after it was cleared for consumption, according to the biotech company that developed the product.  

By Casey Smith | AP

The salmon will head to restaurants and take-out dining services in the Midwest and East Coast and will not be labeled as genetically modified, AquaBounty Technologies CEO Sylvia Wulf, the company behind it, said. 

The modified salmon grow twice as fast as wild salmon, reaching market size – 8 to 12 pounds (3.6 to 5.4 kilograms) – in 18 months rather than 36

So far, the only customer to announce it is selling the salmon is Samuels and Son Seafood, a Philadelphia-based seafood distributor.

Major US retailers such as Costco, Kroger, Walmart and Whole Foods have said they don´t sell genetically modified or cloned salmon and would need to label them as such. 

Genetically modified salmon coming to supermarkets

These salmon, which grow faster than those born in the wild, are raised at an indoor aquaculture farm in Albany, Indiana. They are modified to grow twice as fast as wild salmon, reaching market size – 8 to 12 pounds (3.6 to 5.4 kilograms) – in 18 months rather than 36.

The Massachusetts-based company originally planned to harvest the fish in late 2020, but Wulf said the delay was a result of demand and market price for Atlantic salmon brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Genetically modified salmon to hit U.S. markets

‘The impact of COVID caused us to rethink our initial timeline … no one was looking for more salmon then,’ she said. ‘We’re very excited about it now.

We have timed the harvest with the recovery of the economy, and we know that demand is going to continue to increase.’

AquaBounty Technologies CEO Sylvia Wulf (middle) is seen posing with genetically modified salmon from the company’s indoor aquaculture farm on May 26, 2021, in Albany, Indiana

Despite their rapid growth, the genetically modified salmon require less food than most farmed Atlantic salmon, the company says. Biofiltration units keep water in the Indiana facility´s many 70,000-gallon (264,979-liter) tanks clean, making fish less likely to get sick or require antibiotics.

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.

The first batch of bioengineered Atlantic salmon eggs in an incubation tray at AquaBounty Technologies’ facility in Albany, Indiana

In 2018, the federal agency greenlit AquaBounty´s sprawling Indiana facility, which is currently raising roughly 450 tons (408 metric tons) of salmon from eggs imported from Canada but is capable of raising more than twice that amount.

Part of the domestic pushback revolves around how the engineered fish is to be labeled under FDA guidelines. Salmon fishermen, fish farmers, wholesalers and other stakeholders want clear labeling practices to ensure that customers know they’re purchasing an engineered product.

In November, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco affirmed that the FDA had the authority to oversee genetically engineered animals and fish.

But he ruled that the agency hadn’t adequately assessed the environmental consequences of AquaBounty salmon escaping into the wild.

The company argued that escape is unlikely, saying the fish are monitored 24 hours a day and contained in tanks with screens, grates, netting, pumps and chemical disinfection to prevent escape.

The company´s salmon are also female and sterile, preventing them from mating.

‘Our fish are actually designed to thrive in the land-based environment. That’s part of what makes them unique,’ Wulf said. ‘And we´re proud of the fact that genetically engineered allows us to bring more of a healthy nutritious product to market in a safe, secure and sustainable way.’




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