Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More

How GMO Salmon is Changing our Food System | Future of Food


– I’ll just call in an aberration. It’s that Frankenfish is what we call it. – Frankenfish. – [News Anchor] Frankenfish! – Frankenfish… – [Micheal] That Frankenfish
that they’re talking about, well, this is it. It’s a bio engineered fish and it’s got a lot of people feeling a lot of things. – It is so unnatural! – It’s the first bio engineered animal ever approved for consumption. And after 30 years of debate
about whether we should eat it, it’s now on its way to your dinner table. And it may forever change
how we produce food. (upbeat electronic music) (gentle electronic music) We’re here outside of
AquaBounty’s Indiana facility. Just last week they received
their first shipment of AquAdvantage salmon eggs. Now these eggs, when harvested,
will become the first genetically modified animal ever approved for consumption in the US. So, these are the eggs. They don’t look like much but they’re the culmination of decades
of research and debate over whether genetically modified animals have a place in our diet. – We’re going to see a two
billion person increase in the population in the next 30 years. So, we’re gonna have to
feed 28% more people. So you start with that
premise and then you think “how is seafood gonna play a role?” Wild caught salmon is
basically at full capacity. Other farmed method is ocean cages and they have their own set of challenges because those fish are exposed
to climatic conditions, predators, disease. – [Micheal] And that’s
where AquaBounty’s fish come into play. 30 years ago, scientists figured out how to produce a salmon
that grows to market weight in half the time as conventional salmon. To do this, they injected
the growth hormone from a chinook salmon
into an Atlantic salmon, along with a hormone from the ocean pout to ensure the rapid growth is constant. These super fast growing
salmon have two big advantages. First, is that they need a lot less food. – They have what we call an
improved feed conversion ratio. And what that means is for every pound of feed that you put in, you get more than a pound of meat out. So if you think about cattle, it takes about eight
pounds of feed to create one pound of meat. With our fish, you put
a pound in and you get like one and a quarter pounds out. – [Micheal] Since they grow faster, AquAdvantage fish require 25% less food than conventional salmon. The second advantage
of fast growing salmon is that you can simply
produce a lot more of them. And that’s what unlocks
AquaBounty’s other upside. They grow their fish in what
boils down to big tanks. But the facility is
actually pretty high tech. It has some huge upsides. Super tight controls on the
conditions prevents disease, nearly all of the water’s recirculated so it’s ultra efficient, and you can put them pretty much anywhere. The problem has been
that it’s so expensive. But when you have fast
growing fish in there, the numbers start to balance out in a way they never have before. All of this may sound great, but it’s been far from a cake walk. Genetically engineered anything
is rife with controversy. The long road to market is the result of an approval process that has surfaced two consistent and pretty
reasonable questions that arise when considering
genetically modified animals. What if they get out and
overrun native populations? And more prominently, are we sure they’re safe to eat? At the Indiana facility,
Pete the Farm Manager is the point man for making
sure the first one remains moot. – We have, first of all,
on a really large scale we have geographical location. We’re in Indiana. There are no native salmonids. Nevertheless, inside our units we have a very high level of physical containment. Every possible escape
route out of the facility, water discharge points of pipes, they have layers of containment
and physical barriers in place that will prevent the passage of the fish and we do have
numerous redundant layers. – [Micheal] And on top
of the physical barriers nearly every single fish is sterile. If one gets out, it can’t breed. So, then the question remains, is it really safe to eat? After decades of asking the same question, the answer from regulatory bodies is yes. Why did it take that long? Well, since there was
nothing else really like it, there was no process for it. – So the case of animals, they didn’t have a really good law, so they used the Federal
Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. – [Micheal] This is Doctor Eric Hallerman from Virginia Tech. He was brought in as an expert during AquaBounty’s approval process. – [Eric] What they said is the transgene is basically a drug because it’s altering the structure or function of an animal. And in traditional food
like Atlantic salmon, it’s not regulated at all for that. In fact, we learned a
lot about the biochemical composition of Atlantic salmon because AquaBounty had to
go and do baseline research on what is conventional Atlantic salmon. Then they had to show,
rigorously, that theirs was no different. – [Michael] And, ultimately, that’s exactly what the FDA decided. – [Eric] Basically the way
that FDA pithily put it, AquaBounty salmon is Atlantic salmon. That’s it. – [Michael] With all the
regulatory questions settled, AquaBounty has the green
light to sell their salmon on US shores. And now the looming question is what does this mean for the industry? Does AquaBounty’s long
fight with regulators clear the path for more
innovations like it? Or does it serve as a
warning to anyone else trying to bring bio
engineered animals to market? Doctor Alison Van Eenennaam from UC Davis fears it’s the latter. – I’ve worked in this field for, you know, almost 30 years and there’s one product that’s ever got to market. I mean, how depressing is that? ‘Cause there’s been a
number of really useful applications that’ve been developed over the last 20 years
and they’re all basically sitting on the shelf
because no one has been able to raise the capital to bring them through the regulatory process. But the problem is that
it precludes the use of that technology in food production and more concerningly
in developing countries. The average first world consumer has no idea that their
choices are actually kind of impacting the
ability to use innovation in the developing world. I always find it strange to be like categorically opposed to technology. I think you have to look at
it on a case by case basis and I think most people
want healthy and safe food and also to reduce the
environmental footprint of our existence on Earth, and quite honestly I
can’t think of an industry that more requires, you
know, innovative technology to reduce the environmental
footprint of food production. – Conventional methods are not gonna feed two billion extra people on this planet. And it certainly isn’t gonna happen without some pretty significant
impact to the environment. We’re proud of the fact
that, you know, we solved a problem and we used science to do it. – Thanks for watching. If you like The Future of Food, stay tuned for an exciting new series, The Future of Cities. Subscribe to Freethink now to be the first to see new episodes.

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