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What You Should Know About the Company Pushing Genetically Engineered Salmon on Consumers

If approved AquAdvantage would be the first GE animal greenlighted for human consumption.

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It's appropriate that Panama and Canada should be in charge of protecting their own environments. But will they? And when the "drugs" in question can swim thousands of miles across international borders and potentially mate with fish from elsewhere, a fish pharm becomes a matter of global reach and responsibility. If it gets approved in Panama, where will the next facility be?

AquaBounty's method for sterilizing its salmon is 98.9 percent effective, according to its own data. The environmental significance of that fertile 1.1 percent was compelling enough to help AquaBounty get a $500,000 FDA grant, in September 2011, to improve its sterilization practices.

Oddly, the sterility numbers the company reports far exceed the FDA requirement of 95% sterility. If the company is already exceeding the threshold by nearly four percentage points, why would it need grant money to further improve sterility techniques?

Things aren't adding up on AquaBounty's balance sheet either. On March 22, shareholders will vote on a proposed restructure to trim costs, raise operating capital, and continue waiting out the FDA approval process. A private sale of stock to company insiders will raise enough funds to float the company for 10 months more of its upstream voyage.
AquaBounty acknowledged in a February 22 letter to shareholders it "does not expect significant sales until 2014 and thus anticipates a need to raise further funds before that time." This raises the question: why fundraise for 10 months when you need, in a best-case scenario, about two years?
AquaBounty stock currently sits at $4 a share, down from $150 in 2006, when the company went public. The last time ABTX showed any life was in August, 2010, when the FDA announced it considered AquAdvantage safe. The stock had shot from $4 to $25 in days, before settling back down after the VMAC meeting, two weeks later, when the significance of a new EA set in.

More positive remarks from FDA could send the stock back up again, giving AquaBounty the opportunity to raise more capital. Maybe that's what AquaBounty is hoping will happen in the next ten months. Or perhaps the company is biding its time to see who wins the election, or is waiting for another FDA grant to come in. Or maybe 10 month's worth is all the money AquaBounty could raise at this juncture, which wouldn't bode well for its future stability.

AquaBounty did not respond to requests for comment, so we're stuck guessing why, after a 23-year haul, it's kicking the can ten months down the road.   

Ari LeVaux writes a syndicated weekly food column, Flash in the Pan.

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