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Expert: Genetically modified salmon may hurt seafood industry

Barton Seaver warns that adding another layer of doubt to the seafood market could scare off consumers

Despite the success of one company’s genetically modified salmon in Canada, one seafood expert does not believe that such products are a benefit to the domestic seafood sector over the long haul.

“Seafood in general as a category I think is the only food that is considered guilty before proven innocent in terms of wholesomeness and sustainability,” said Barton Seaver, author, seafood expert and former executive chef. “I’ve never once heard anybody ask, ‘Is the pork fresh?’”

Seaver said that consumers already engage in conversations about seafood items and sustainability “with trepidation and doubt,” and he believes that genetically modified options—which grow in size at a faster interval than typical salmon—will only serve to pour fuel on an already stoked fire.

The Maynard, Mass.-based AquaBounty sold approximately five tons of its genetically modified salmon product AquAdvantage in Canada last year. However, debate over proper labeling techniques for the modified fish have kept it from hitting American seafood cases.

Seaver believes its potential arrival may hurt the industry rather than boost it. Regardless of what is scientifically accurate or proven, Seaver warns that consumer perception toward genetically modified foods may give those shoppers that were already wary about purchasing seafood another reason to abstain.

He also feels that traditional fish hatchery methods are already aiding the sustainability of the world’s salmon supply and that thus far the documented gains of genetically modifying farmed salmon fail to “really dazzle.”

“They don’t make a strong enough market case for the need for these animals,” said Seaver.

Instead, he would rather see the industry invest in a united front from a “precompetitive standpoint” that extolled the benefits of consuming traditional seafood.

Seaver advises that both wild capture and farmers should establish a singular message that combats what he calls “super negative” and “clickbait” messaging that preys upon consumer fears of seafood health concerns and freshness.

“We need to be pushing people towards the seafood case,” said Seaver, while commenting on the health benefits of a diet rich in seafood items. “Seafood, seafood, seafood, folks. All of the time.”

Seaver conceded that whatever route the federal government opts to take with the sale of genetically modified salmon, it will set the standard for several areas of the food industry for the foreseeable future.

“This is the watershed moment,” Seaver said. “This is the precedent for the first genetically modified animal being sold.”

Contact: Dan.Orlando@penton.com

Twitter: @DanAMX

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