The Genetic Modification Battle isn’t over, it’s just Moving to Fish

The Lempert Report
October 11, 2019

A UN report reviews the benefits of genetic improvement in aquaculture.

"Wider, appropriate and long-term application of genetic improvement in aquaculture, with a focus on selective breeding, will help boost food production to meet a projected increase in demand for fish and fish products with relatively little extra feed, land, water and other inputs", according to a new Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report.

The State of the World's Aquatic Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is the first-ever global report of its kind and is based on information provided by 92 countries, together representing 96 percent of global aquaculture production and over 80 percent of capture fisheries production.

The report concludes that we have the opportunity to significantly enhance sustainable aquaculture production through the strategic management and development of some of the more than 550 species currently used in aquaculture.

According to the report, we are still largely farming wild fish, with 45 percent of cultured species being little different from their wild counterparts. 

The report notes that just over half of the reporting countries consider that genetic improvement is having a significant impact on their aquaculture production, in contrast with the extensive use of improved breeds and varieties in livestock and crop production. 

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu says " it is crucial that we safeguard, manage and further develop the planet's aquatic genetic resources, allowing organisms to grow, to adapt to natural and human-induced impacts such as climate change, to resist diseases and parasites, and to continue to evolve to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and our continued fight for a Zero Hunger world."

Numerous technologies are available to improve aquatic genetic resources with FAO recommending a focus on well-designed, long-term selective breeding programmes, which can increase productivity of aquatic species by 10 percent per generation. 

Aquatic genetic resources should be included, the report says, in broader food security and nutrition policies. These policies must consider long-term development strategies for aquaculture, including the transboundary management of aquatic genetic resources, access and benefit-sharing, genetic improvement and conservation.