NOEL KING, HOST:
Genetically modified salmon might be on menus in this country soon. The fish would be the first GMO animal approved for human consumption in this country. And as Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Samantha Horton reports, the fish are being raised in a very unlikely place.
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SAMANTHA HORTON, BYLINE: Thousands of salmon eggs are sitting in a shallow pool of water on a late spring day. But these eggs aren’t growing in a stream. They’re sitting in trays inside incubators in a cool, dimly lit room. Some are just beginning to hatch.
PETE BOWYER: So the eggs are about the size of a sweet pea. And then when the alevin hatches, it’ll end up being about the length of your thumb now.
HORTON: That’s farm manager Pete Bowyer. These eggs are growing in a lab nestled between farmland along a back road in central Indiana. The landlocked facility is run by AquaBounty Technologies and consists of several warehouses, some with dozens of big, round tanks that look like swimming pools sitting in neat rows indoors. Sylvia Wulf says by being land-based, her company addresses two big concerns – creating sustainable fishing and getting fresh seafood closer to consumers.
SYLVIA WULF: We import about 335 million metric tons from Chile and Norway. This gives us the opportunity to raise salmon close to consumption, reducing the carbon footprint.
HORTON: The salmon AquaBounty are raising for the U.S. market had to first clear hurdles with the Food and Drug Administration. The company edited the genes of the salmon to shorten the time it takes to be fully grown. Outdoors, that takes about two years. But AquaBounty says it can produce marketable salmon in about a year and a half. That will be the first genetically engineered animal sold to Americans for human consumption.
Bob Rode researches aquaculture at Purdue University. He says that most of the salmon sold today is grown in net pens in the ocean, and that raises a number of concerns.
BOB RODE: There’s a lot of worries about environmental impact. There’s a lot of worries about disease issues, escapes, that sort of thing, in those systems. So a lot of people are looking at land-based aquaculture to reduce some of those environmental hazards.
HORTON: He says the challenge has been making land-based aquaculture profitable. Sylvia Wulf says these fish will be raised much closer to consumers and be competitively priced.
WULF: Well, I think that it is identical to Atlantic salmon, and so we’re going to price it to what it is identical to.
HORTON: While the fish won’t be ready for a while, some businesses and restaurants are already deciding against selling them because of the GMO stigma. Kirsten Serrano and her husband own the restaurant La Scala in Lafayette, Ind. She has ethical concerns about gene editing food.
KIRSTEN SERRANO: I definitely want to say no to GMOs. I think that, you know, local is fantastic. The farm-to-table movement is fantastic. You know, we are a farm-to-table restaurant. But local doesn’t trump everything. You know, you still need to look at sourcing and quality.
HORTON: But chef Caleb Churchill, who owns a restaurant close to the salmon facility, says he’s interested to serve the fish but ultimately it will be his customers that decide.
CALEB CHURCHILL: I think a lot of people that are chefs will entertain it but be very cautious about putting it on their menu. You know, we’re the middleman, I think, is the way you got to kind of look at it.
HORTON: If he does put it on the menu, Churchill says he will note the fish is genetically engineered. If all goes well, the first batch of nearly 100,000 genetically engineered salmon could reach the market by late next year. For NPR News, I’m Samantha Horton.
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