Will AquaBounty and its salmon go belly-up?

Things are not looking good for the genetically-engineered salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies. Granted, the FDA concluded in September of 2010 that the fish is safe to eat and poses no threat to the environment. And in October of 2011, the agency submitted its support of the fast-growing salmon s commercial production. Yet the AquaBounty salmon has faced continual opposition both from activists who doubt the FDA s assessment and from fish-state legislators who fear competition for the salmon industry in their home states. Now, nearly two years after that initial vote of confidence from the FDA, the salmon still has not received approval and AquaBounty Technologies isn t sure how much longer it can survive without a product to sell.

But as The New York Times Andrew Pollack reports in his recent coverage of the debacle, a failure for AquaBounty may very well mean a failure for animal biotechnology in the U.S. An environment that s hostile to such research could result in its moving elsewhere, as has already been documented in other biotech fields.

Currently, the AquaBounty company is supported primarily by its largest shareholder, Kakha Bendukidze, a former economics minister of the country of Georgia who has a background in molecular biology. While Bendukidze is confident that the AquaBounty salmon s lower production costs will eventually win it approval and consumer acceptance, the company itself has only enough money to stay afloat until the end of the year.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross is concerned and saddened about the implications of AquaBounty s discouraging history. Not only will we in the U.S. be denied this product that is economically preferable, he says. We will also lose research in this area of biotechnology to countries more hospitable to it, largely in Asia. The fact that uninformed fear of GM products is largely driving this reaction is perhaps the most frustrating thing about it.