Buried deep within rural Indiana, thousands of genetically modified salmon eggs are beginning to hatch. They’ve been designed from the ground up to be superior to the salmon raised at fish farms spanning the globe.
They grow faster, require less sustenance, and are all around cheaper to “produce”.
Sound like science fiction? As of last week, it’s science fact.
Because this school of “aquafarm fish” has just been approved for human consumption in the United States.
Some analysts say this is the first step in ending world hunger.
Others, like consumer advocacy groups, claim that scientists have gone too far.
After all, these are apex-level genetically modified organisms (GMOs) we’re dealing with. Aren’t GMOs supposed to be bad for us?
Not necessarily. Modern day corn, for example, is a GMO. Some are good, some are not.
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The jury’s still out on “designer salmon”.
But that’s not stopping AquaBounty Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ: AQB) from pushing the genetic envelope. To company leadership, they’re simply providing a product.
It’s up to restaurants and cafeterias to decide if they should tell diners that the fish have been engineered for max efficiency.
“It’s their customer, not ours,” remarked Sylvia Wulf, AquaBounty’s CEO.
That’s absolutely true – AQB’s fancy new fish will be sold primarily to food distributors, not consumers. But if hungry restaurant-goers don’t develop a taste for modified salmon, AquaBounty’s experimental fish farms could be dead in the water after years of seeking government approval – something the company has finally obtained.
And even though the Feds are fine with aquafarmed salmon, others aren’t quite as convinced.
Kroger and Whole Foods, for example, have vowed to never sell the fish amid an organic renaissance. It goes against their mission statements to provide only the most natural of products.
And for the most part, they’re reflecting upper-middle class consumer sentiment. “Woke” shoppers won’t touch a single grape these days if it’s been anywhere near synthetic pesticides.
They certainly won’t eat fish with a GMO disclaimer on the label.
But that’s not AquaBounty’s target market. Instead, they’re going for the underserved “bottom” – the folks who normally couldn’t afford Atlantic salmon at a restaurant.
Even then, nobody’s quite sure what the reaction to actually offering the bioengineered salmon would be. Even if it tastes exactly the same as a “natural” fish, would lower end diners partake?
It’s a big gamble for both AquaBounty and any restaurant that serves their fish. A partnership with the company would be highly controversial, possibly resulting in boycotts and lost market share.
On the other hand, the cheaper GMO salmon could possibly boost margins. Especially if regulators don’t force eateries to reveal the origin of their fish, allowing restaurants to charge premium prices for discount salmon.
AQB shares skyrocketed on the news of federal approval last week, but there are still plenty of lingering concerns over whether they can even take their salmon to market.
Bullish speculators claim it’s one of the greatest breakthroughs we’ll ever see, while bears argue that the GMO stigma is simply too tall a hurdle for mass consumption.
Either way, AquaBounty’s revolutionary new product will likely have one solid use-case:
Feeding the underprivileged – A.K.A., folks who have nothing else to eat. Nor money to pay for it.
It’s a noble cause, but last time I checked, nonprofits couldn’t issue stock.
And unless consumers grow more GMO-friendly in the near future, AQB could simply be destined to sink, not swim.
It’s a shame, because what they’ve accomplished could truly change the world.
The problem is, the world might not be ready for it.