Wednesday, January 17, 2018

GMO Salmon Company Headquartered in Maynard

Fifth in a multi-part series AT THE MILL.

AquAdvantage salmon with unmodified salmon, both about 12 months
of age. Both types of fish reach the same size as adults, but it takes
 the non-GMO fish about twice as long. Photo courtesy of AquaBounty.
A new innovation in salmon aquaculture has started to reach market - genetically engineered Atlantic salmon that reach harvest size at 16-20 months instead of 28-32 months for aquaculture of unmodified salmon. The fish are brand named AquAdvantage®. The company is AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. The company’s headquarters is officially located at Mill & Main, Maynard, Massachusetts.   

This does not mean that there are tanks of giant fish lurking in the basements of the mill buildings, striving to escape into the Assabet River. Point of fact, there are no salmon in Maynard whatsoever. Never have been. Never will be. Most day-to-day operations, research and production take place in other locations. Only three staff are actually situated in Maynard.

AquaBounty management standing in front of Maynard’s mill pond. L to R:
Ronald L. Stotish, President/CEO, Dave Conley, Director of Communications,
Dawn Runighan, Facility Manager (Canada), Chantal March, Regulatory
Compliance, Alejandro Rojas, COO, Christopher Martin, General Counsel,
David A. Frank, Treasurer/CFO, and Henry Clifford - VP Marketing and Sales
Photo courtesy of AquaBounty. Click on photos to enlarge.
The life cycle of the Atlantic salmon varies, from one to four years as a small fish in a fresh water river, followed by two to four years in the ocean before returning to the same river to spawn. Unlike some Pacific salmon, the Atlantic species can return to the ocean after spawning and then back to the river in a year or two. Adult salmon are on the order of 30 inches long and weigh about twelve pounds, although potentially much larger if they delay returning to spawn for a first time or are repeaters. Trophy-size fish can top 50 pounds. Survival research suggests that it takes about 8,000 eggs to end up with two sexually mature fish.

Due to over-fishing and destruction of riverine habitat, there is no longer much in the way of a natural commercial catch. Instead, salmon fish farming - aquaculture -  uses fresh water tanks for the first year and then massive cages in the ocean to raise salmon to maturity – from egg to harvest – in 2.5 to 3.0 years. For Atlantic salmon (but not for various Pacific species), a point has been reached wherein less than 10 percent of the market is wild-caught.

What AquaBounty did was transfer a gene from Chinook salmon and a promoter sequence from another gene, from ocean pout, into Atlantic salmon in order to continually produce growth hormone rather than seasonally, as in wild fish. Several systems are in place to prevent accidental escape of GMO salmon to potentially breed with or out-compete wild salmon. First, the fish being raised for market are sterile females. The fertilized eggs from the breeding females have no male chromosome, and an egg treatment causes the hatched female fish to be sterile. The breeding facilities have physical and chemical barriers to prevent physical escape, and the locations for raising marketable fish (Panama, and soon, Indiana) have no connection to the ocean. In theory, a fish raising facility could be created in Maynard (big fish in the mill pond, anyone?), but that’s not going to happen.

Atlantic salmon can reach tremendous size (this one topping
60 pounds) just by staying in the ocean a few more years
before returning to the river to spawn. Internet photo.
Advantages for salmon aquaculture in land-based tanks versus ocean cages – true for GMO or unmodified fish - include better food-to-weight gain efficiency, lower risk of diseases, less predator loss and a lower transportation carbon footprint. 

The method of inserting these particular genes into Atlantic salmon was finalized more than 25 years ago. All the intervening time has been getting government approvals to produce and market the fish, which has taken far longer than any GMO plant approval. The very first batch actually brought to market was to Canada, in June 2017. Looking into the future, one might expect to see a fish store display with three trays: wild salmon, farmed salmon, GMO farmed salmon. Priced accordingly. Consumer’s choice, just as it now is with organic versus non-organic.

As to when sales might commence in the United States, Mr. Ronald L. Stotish, President and CEO of AquaBounty, replied “We intend to introduce AquAdvantage® salmon into the U.S. market as soon as the Import Alert is lifted.”

It’s complicated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the fish as safe for human consumption, and ruled in 2015 that labeling as GMO, or not GMO, or not bothering to label one way or the other, would be voluntary. Then, a bill signed into law by President Obama in July 2016 called for mandatory labeling on all genetically engineered foods, but the government granted itself two years to create the new regulations. Next, tucked into the 2016 federal budget was an Import Alert prohibiting any introduction of genetically engineered salmon until the FDA either publishes final labeling guidelines. This was continued in the 2017 budget. There is also a federally filed lawsuit pending. So, the definitive answer appears to be “You will see it when you see it.” 

Disclosing that I own shares in AquaBounty. And am willing to eat GMO fish.      

Monday, January 1, 2018

Building No. 5, Maynard's Mill

Fourth in a multi-part series AT THE MILL.

Four years after the bankruptcy and closure of the mill in 1898, the American Woolen Company, as new owner, was putting the finishing touches on a brand new building designated No. 5 then and still with us as No. 5 now. From The Maynard News, dated March 14, 1902: “Where eight months ago stood a long row of wooden sheds, today stands one of the largest single mills in the world…” 

Building No. 5 behind the temporary flume that was in place 1916-1918
for the construction of building No. 1. Structure in left corner is chimney.
The rapidity of the construction was all the more remarkable because room for the foundation on the south side had to be blown out of solid rock (explosives likely bought from the American Powder Mill, down the road), while the north side required a temporary dike in the millpond to allow for the pouring of concrete. The article describes the work crew as numbering 500, more than half of them Italian laborers, working day and night. Carting was contracted locally, so there was full employment for horses, too.

Completed, the building spanned 690 x 106 feet, five stories above a basement, so providing more than 400,000 square feet of floor space. Two floors were dedicated to looms, with the other floors providing space for carding, spinning, dressing, spooling and drawing-in. Each floor of the mill was powered by electric motors and illuminated by electric light bulbs, with the electricity produced by the mill’s own coal-fired, steam-powered generators. Floor-to-ceiling windows added natural light.

In this photo from 2000, Building No. 5 is to the right. At the time of its
completion in 1902 the two other buildings fronting on the mill pond had
 not yet been built (No. 3, middle, 1911 and No. 1, left, 1918).
Bringing this new building on line more than doubled working space at the American Woolen Company operations in Maynard, and brought employment to 2,000 men, women and teenage children. The town’s population reflected the mill’s expansion, more than doubling from 3,100 to 6,400 between 1900 and 1910. These were the years that brought so many European immigrants to Maynard.

Current occupants of building No. 5 include Stratus Technologies, which leased a bit more than 100,000 square feet starting summer of 2015, and the Battle Road Brewery and Brewhouse, open for business February 2017. The brewhouse has outdoor seating overlooking the millpond (weather permitting).  

“Five” has figured mightily in American art. Circa 1920, the poet William Carlos Williams published “The Great Figure,” a poem that in 32 words captured the cacophony of moment and sound on a hot, July, city night: “Among the rain/ and lights/ I saw the figure 5/ in gold/ on a red/ firetruck/ moving/ tense/ unheeded/ to gong clangs/ siren howls/ and wheels rumbling/ through the dark city.” The poem scrolls down the printed page, short line after short line, but when read aloud, not too fast, but without pauses for commas (because there are no commas), it is a tone poem, and itself whole. As told by Williams to a friend, he was so struck by the sight and sound of the firetruck that he took paper and pencil out of his pocket and wrote the poem – or at least the kernel of the poem – standing there on the sidewalk.

"I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold" Charles Demuth (1928). Inspired
by William Carlos William poem "The Great Figure" The
original is 30 x 35 inches. Click on images to enlarge.
In 1928, inspired by Williams’ poem, American artist Charles Demuth painted “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold.” The work, in oil paint, graphite, ink and gold leaf, is 30x35 inches. Between 1924 and 1929, Demuth completed eight abstract paintings as tributes to modern American artists, writers, and performers. Demuth left the painting in his will to Georgia O'Keeffe. She in turn bequeathed it to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it resides. The three 5’s in the painting and the partial curve of a fourth convey that image of the firetruck receding away from WCW that night. The rest is a city street, store windows, street lights and a subtle scattering of references to the poet. For anyone with a computer, it’s worth a search on the painting’s title for a screen viewing.

In 2013 “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold” was one of twelve works of art featured in stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service. For dollhouse collectors, it is possible to purchase picture frames that are a good size match for postage stamps. What a way to collect famous paintings for a fraction of the cost (at a fraction of the size).


U.S. postage stamp from 2013 of
"I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold"
Which is exactly what I did. On eBay, I was able to buy the stamp from one vendor and a "Dollhouse double matted gilded Victorian picture frame miniature (from Jacqueline's)" from another, combined cost about $12.00. The frame included a rectangle of clear acetate to simulate glass. The size of stamp and frame is 1:24 inch scale, meaning 1 foot is 1/2 inch. This is a popular size for adult dollhouse collectors in the U.S.; in Great Britain a 1:12 scale is more common. Sometimes, collectors want their dollhouse to have a dollhouse. This calls for the dollhouse to be 1:12 scale and the D-in-D to be 1:144 scale. People doing stop-motion animation may work in 1:6 scale, meaning 1 foot is two inches, and characters therefore 8-12 inches tall. Often heads, hands and feet are disproportionally large so as to not look too much like miniature people. This also allows for more detail on face construction and movement without the characters getting too large. Barbie and the early G.I. Joe action figures are 1:6 scale. The action figure hero and villain market (think comic book and sc-fi movie characters) tend to be in 1:10 scale. These are often used in adult audience intended stop motion animation, as seen on the cable TV channel Adult Swim, meaning that sets and props need to be custom made rather than dollhouse standard sizes.