As the FDA continues to take testimony over whether a genetically engineered salmon by Aqua Bounty is safe to eat, environmentally sound to raise, and whether it requires special labeling, there is a bigger question.
Would anyone eat it?
"I think it's a great concept," says Matt Stein, managing director of King's Seafood distribution on the west coast. "Essentially it's the same fish."
Stein and others say genetically modified seafood is inevitable and necessary, as wild fish in the ocean can't keep up with global demand. "The ocean cannot give anymore," says the University of Maryland's Yonathan Zohar, who told the FDA that farm raised fish, or aquaculture, is a $28 billion industry that needs to double or triple by 2030 to meet demand. He believes that may only happen with genetic engineering.
Zohar says aquaculture is the fastest growing agribusiness in the United States, though we still only rank 14th in the world, at $1.2 billion. At the same time, more than 80 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported, worth about $7 billion to $8 billion, says Zohar, making seafood the leading agricultural product adding to our trade deficit.
Darden Restaurants , owner of Red Lobster, tells CNBC, "We're following the developments closely, but it's too early to say whether this type of product would work in our restaurants."
Matt Stein at King's Seafood believes genetic engineering in American aquaculture is important for a couple of reasons.
First, there would be food security and environmental oversight.
Since so much of our seafood is imported, "you have all sorts of issues with that—security issues, carbon footprint issues." Secondly, he sees this as "one new strategy that can be perfected in this country and then exported, like other things that we've done well and exported."
But would he eat it? Would he sell it? "I would feed it to my kids tomorrow," he says. But Stein admits he's not sure his company would be able to successfully sell it to the public for a while. "I think that there is probably the initial shock value that people will react to," Stein says, "but I think it'll become commonplace in the future. I think it needs to be."