Undercurrent News, a fish-industry journal, recently reported that Cargill, in partnership with the German chemical company BASF, is developing GE canola that expresses much higher levels of two long-chain omega 3 fatty acids –EPA and DPA (but not DHA). Omega-3s are found naturally only in fish, some fungi, and microalgae. This new biotech would transcribe the Omega-3 genes from algae into canola plants, and is already looking at fields in Montana for the first crops. The hope is that the modified canola can be available within 5 years as a substitute for fish oils for the global aquaculture industry, a change that would remove significant pressure on fish stocks in the ocean.
But like all major dietary changes, for fish or people, switching farm-raised fish from their natural, fish-based diet to a plant-based one will cause other problems. Perhaps these will be manageable. In the interim, Cargill has much work to do to assess other, unanticipated changes in GE canola, as well as in fish fed the new oils. In addition, canola is an out-crossing crop, so there will be challenges in keeping the GE canola genes where they belong.
This is a GE technology with huge market potential, and one that raises a host of novel concerns. Consumer and market acceptance will depend on how responsibly and openly the company addresses the potential health and environmental issues, and in this task Cargill should not expect much help from the federal government. Complying with all government regulations in the world of ag biotech no longer assures a smooth path to the market place.
Matt Craze, “Cargill sees mass-produced omega-3 canola oil by 2020,” November 29, 2016, Undercurrent News