Lassgard Bioteknik

Lassgard Bioteknik
Media

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lassgard_logo
Lassgard Bioteknik logo.
Former type
Publicly traded aktiebolag
Industry
Founded
September 2021
Founder
William Lassgard
Key people
Headquarters
Uppsala, Sweden
Area served
Worldwide
Defunct
2039

Lassgard Bioteknik was a biotechnology company headquartered in Uppsala, Sweden. Founded out of Uppsala Science Park in 2021, the company's research and development was focused on using genetic modification and full-cycle farming to replenish depleted fish stock. At its peak, Lassgard Bioteknik operated a fully integrated value chain across five countries and covered seven endangered and extinct species, including Atlantic halibut, Atlantic salmon, and red sea bream.

In 2034, Lassgard Bioteknik introduced a line of Atlantic bluefin tuna that became increasingly popular in the Asian seafood market and accounted for roughly 80% of worldwide tuna consumption by 2039. It was then revealed that the company's feeding practices for this line of tuna were the most likely origin of the Cariappa-Muren disease (CMD) pandemic, which has claimed close to 40,000 lives since it was discovered.

As a result of the mass consternation surrounding CMD and the public implication of Lassgard Bioteknik, multiple lawsuits were filed against CEO William Lassgard in late 2039. After he fled Swedish authorities and disappeared, his board and creditors were forced to manage liquidation proceedings.

History

Founding

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Lassgard Bioteknik initially made use of land-based aquaculture systems for the farming of its fish products.

Lassgard Bioteknik was founded in 2021 by biochemist William Lassgard upon completion of his research project at the Uppsala Science Park. Using genetic modification, he and his team had managed to increase the growth rate of Atlantic halibut, by then categorised as a critically endangered species due to overfishing. This species of flatfish has a relatively slow growth and late onset of sexual maturity (seven years for males and ten for females at the earliest), making it an unlikely candidate for full-cycle fish farming, but Lassgard's process had brought that down to an average of two and a half years for males and three for females.

After receiving approval from the Swedish National Food Agency (NFA), Lassgard raised 35 million e-krona in a public offering of shares and an additional 10 million via crowdfunding for the installation of recirculating aquaculture systems in two local warehouses. It then took three and a half years for the first generation of farmed Atlantic halibut to grow to market size. In October 2024, Lassgard Bioteknik made its first sale of 2.5 tonnes of adult-sized Lassgard halibut to Swedish customers after it had already begun selling juveniles to commercial fisheries and grow-out farms in other countries.

TRANSDOTT acquisition and growth

While this first generation of Lassgard halibut was being raised, research continued on genetically adapting and preparing other fish species for full-cycle aquaculture, including Atlantic salmon, red sea bream, and Indian mackerel. William Lassgard, who had taken on the role of CEO at that point, made no secret of the fact that these fish species were all prized in the Asian seafood market, which had grown to represent close to 70% of global fish consumption by 2025.[1] In August of that year, Lassgard Bioteknik announced that it had successfully developed a hybrid Atlantic bluefin tuna by adding two genes from the skipjack tuna, allowing the hybrid species to spawn throughout the year and grow to market size and sexual maturity in two to three years.

To combine its Lassgard tuna with full-cycle aquaculture and bolster its overall operational capacity, Lassgard Bioteknik used the revenue stream from its halibut sales to buy out the multinational TRANSDOTT project.[2] Due to favourable logistics and short travelling distances on land, Malta had been chosen as the site for the installation of several TRANSDOTT aquaculture farms and hatcheries, but production had stalled in late 2024 after a political backlash forced Israel and Italy to pull out of the project. Once the buyout was completed in September 2025, Lassgard Bioteknik refitted the TRANSDOTT facilities in Malta mainly for the production of Lassgard tuna.

By 2029, Lassgard Bioteknik owned a 45% share of the global halibut market and exported over half of its entire stock to East Asia. It operated 48 land-based farming sites, 110 coastal seawater sites, four broodstock plants, and four hatcheries, all divided between Sweden and the Mediterranean. Over the following years, the company vertically integrated its supply chain and significantly expanded its operations to include Singapore, Chile, and South Africa. From 2032 onwards, the media started including Lassgard Bioteknik in the collective term Big Fish.

Success with Lassgard tuna

Meanwhile, Lassgard Bioteknik was having trouble developing its tuna stock and introducing it abroad. A combination of low larvae survival rates and inadequate artificial fish meal had resulted in the company being unable to close its tuna's aquaculture cycle. Tuna require an exceptionally large amount of food per kilogram of weight gained and the company's vegetable and protein feeds did not meet the threshold for sustainable grow-out. Only by reappropriating part of its own farmed mackerel stock as a food source was Lassgard Bioteknik able to produce the tonnage of Lassgard tuna necessary for entry in the Asian seafood market.

After its introduction, Lassgard tuna fetched consistently low marbling grades at seafood marketplaces and was generally reviewed poorly by Asian consumers for its lacking taste. As a result, Lassgard Bioteknik quickly found itself struggling to compete with Kindai Fisheries, which had produced the first generation of full-cycle farmed Pacific bluefin tuna in 2002 and had since remained the chief supplier of farmed tuna in Japan and China with a yearly output of 35,000 tonnes by 2032. William Lassgard decided to go back to the drawing board and rework his company's approach to farming its tuna, stating that he intended for Lassgard tuna to become the flagship product of Lassgard Bioteknik and that "nothing less than perfection would do."

On May 11th 2034, two years to the day since the Atlantic bluefin tuna was officially declared extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to overfishing and anthropogenic climate change, Lassgard made the announcement that his company's researchers had developed a new artificial feed with a fat-to-protein ratio that surpassed grow-out expectations, allowing Lassgard tuna to acquire additional body fat during its aquaculture cycle. This fattening process made it an ideal choice for ōtoro sushi.

After several endorsements from renowned sushi chefs that highlighted its rich taste, the new Lassgard tuna became a prized commodity at high-end restaurants in Japan, China, and South Korea. To build on this initial foothold, Lassgard Bioteknik devoted additional production capacity in the Mediterranean to the farming of Lassgard tuna, which allowed the company to match its output with that of Kindai Fisheries by early 2037. The company responded by briefly experimenting with new artificial feeds to boost its own aquaculture stock of Kindai tuna, but was unable to challenge the Asian market's newfound preference for fattier Lassgard tuna.

Following its success in East Asia, Lassgard tuna also became popular in specialised dining establishments in Europe and the Americas. William Lassgard responded by initiating the sale of residual Lassgard tuna stock to retail outlets in canned form and establishing it as a budget consumer brand. By 2039, Lassgard Bioteknik accounted for 90% of the Asian tuna market and roughly 80% of worldwide tuna consumption.

Food poisoning scandal

Initial WHO investigation

In January 2039, the monthly Bulletin of the World Health Organisation (WHO) included a notice against feeding tuna to pets.[3] This alarm was raised on behalf of epidemiologist Sunil Cariappa, who earlier had discovered a possible link between an increased mortality rate in domestic cats and feeding diets that included Lassgard tuna. The WHO notice ultimately did not mention Lassgard tuna by name due to objections from the Aquaculture Advisory Council (AAC). After the notice was issued, William Lassgard played on his background as a biochemist to personally question the scientific validity of Cariappa's findings.

Six months later, Cariappa and neuropathologist Connie Muren had joined an Outbreak Control Team (OCT) convened by the WHO's Global Foodborne Infections Network (GFN) and determined that Lassgard Bioteknik's line of tuna was contaminated with a novel prion agent. This foodborne disease, which they described as piscine transmissible amyloidotic encephalopathy (PTAE), was considered to be responsible for the epizootic in cats, and further tests had demonstrated that it could be transmitted to people as well. In response, the WHO expanded the scope of the OCT, which appointed Muren as chairperson, and launched a bid directed at national food agencies to halt the sale of Lassgard tuna pending the team's investigation. The AAC reacted by posting a public letter to then-WHO Director-General Yang Jinglei, stating that it would "exercise every avenue available to defeat the agenda-driven campaign against Lassgard Bioteknik and expose the dubious nature of Connie Muren's work, including challenging the European Union's (EU) €70 million in funding to the WHO."

To conclusively establish the origin of PTAE, the WHO requested that the Swedish Ministry of Justice subpoena Lassgard Bioteknik for all documentation pertaining to the farming process of Lassgard tuna. Lassgard Bioteknik lawyers fought the subpoena, stating that the details of this process were freely available at the Swedish Patent and Registration Office. However, it was an open secret that the information retained at the patent office was, at least in part, a fabrication. William Lassgard was fiercely protective of the artificial feed stock that had allowed his company's fattier tuna to edge out the competition, and the publicly available formula for this feed was considered to be inauthentic or lacking crucial details.

While the AAC was lobbying heavily against any attempts to temporarily halt the sale of Lassgard tuna and Lassgard Bioteknik lawyers were holding up legal proceedings in Swedish courts, the company launched an aggressive marketing campaign to reassure consumers and shareholders that its tuna was safe to eat. When sales of Lassgard tuna nonetheless dipped by 2.6% during the investigation, Lassgard Bioteknik began undermining public trust in the WHO by claiming there were divisions and a lack of consensus within Muren's OCT, giving the appearance of a scientific controversy where there was none.

Data leak and resulting discoveries

On October 1st 2039, a data cache of confidential Lassgard Bioteknik documents and internal correspondence dating back to 2030 was leaked to Belgian reporter Ebe Daems, who had earlier published several articles investigating allegations of price fixing among Big Fish companies. After the source of the leak was verified, Daems asked the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for help with sorting the 11.9 million files as fast as possible, since the source had warned her that Lassgard Bioteknik was taking steps to conceal the PTAE outbreak in its farmed tuna, which presented a serious biorisk if left unchecked.

After the files were carefully reviewed by over 400 journalists and researchers, the Belgian quarterly news magazine Mondiaal Nieuws ran a series of articles, starting on October 23rd, in which it established a timeline of Lassgard Bioteknik's malpractice and accused Big Fish as a whole of orchestrating "the most heinous disinformation campaign since climate change denial." The articles exposed how Big Fish had come together in an informal NATO-like collective defence pact to protect Lassgard Bioteknik, presumably because the entire aquaculture industry would be at risk if the PTAE outbreak was substantiated and consumers lost confidence in fish products. This pact included, among others, a smear campaign against Sunil Cariappa and Connie Muren, enlisting the AAC to minimise the WHO investigation, and the funding of environmental studies in favour of farmed fish and toxicological studies that declared Lassgard tuna perfectly safe for human consumption.

Origin of contamination

As the ICIJ was vetting the Mondiaal Nieuws articles prior to publication, it also worked in conjunction with the GFN to provide Muren's OCT and fifteen other laboratories with all relevant files on Lassgard Bioteknik's tuna farming process. This allowed the team to finally determine that Lassgard tuna were contaminated with PTAE by their feed stock, which was not artificial fish meal as its patent described, but rather a line of in-house developed processed animal protein (PAP) pellets rendered from bovine waste material.

An official investigation with access to Lassgard Bioteknik's facilities would later uncover that the company had been purchasing this waste material at low cost from abattoirs and factory farms struggling to sell their product after the meat industry started winding down due to increased social opposition. Economic pressure, rushed deprivatisation efforts, and a lack of compensation all led to meatpackers cutting corners in their production cycles, which resulted in outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) having a higher chance of going undetected. Muren's OCT concluded that the PTAE epizootic in Lassgard tuna was most likely the result of a second outbreak of BSE, which was passed to the tuna via the PAP pellets.

After the first BSE epidemic infected close to 500,000 cattle during the 1980s and 1990s, most countries had laid down regulations for the prevention of prion diseases in animals by prohibiting the use of PAPs in feed stocks. After a consensus on the safety of feeding land animal proteins to fish in 2013, the EU had relaxed these regulations and deemed PAPs suitable for use in farmed aquaculture specifically.[4] This exemption had motivated Lassgard Bioteknik to keep its entire infrastructure for farming Lassgard tuna in Europe instead of moving it closer to its intended market to save on shipping costs.

Timeline of cover-up

The data leak revealed that Lassgard Bioteknik had been aware as early as March 2037 that its tuna stock was exhibiting erratic behaviour due to the PTAE epizootic. At the time, the cause was attributed to the challenging nature of handling tuna in aquaculture farms. Tuna are powerful fish and have hypersensitive reactions to external stimuli. If upset, they are known to swim at 50 km/h into nets and dying on impact. Smart lighting systems were present for dusk and dawn simulation to reduce stress of the tuna, and Lassgard Bioteknik spent close to 10 million e-krona on revising these systems, as their inefficacy was believed to be responsible for the tuna's unusual behaviour.

When the tuna then began dying off after the erratic behaviour progressed unabated, it was believed that the culprit was actually a parasitic encephalitis caused by Miamiensis avidus.[5] A 1997 study of this waterborne parasite had shown that it causes atypical swimming behaviour followed by rapid death in southern bluefin tuna, which prompted Lassgard Bioteknik to install additional disinfection and filtration systems after increased site fallowing between farming cycles.

This strategy also proved ineffective at curbing the tuna mortalities, which led to reduced production quotas and a concurrent drop in Lassgard Bioteknik's share price in late 2037. Ultimately, the decision was made to outfit all Lassgard tuna farms with smart cameras that made use of algorithms to track individual fish and accurately detect the behavioural anomalies that preindicated increased suicidal tendencies and death. Since it took approximately two to three years for Lassgard tuna to reach market size and the anomalies only started appearing after two years, Lassgard Bioteknik began processing and shipping its tuna as soon as the algorithms signalled the ideal window between adequate growth size and onset of symptoms.

All Lassgard tuna were screened and biopsied before transfer, but the only tests in place for prions were configured to check for vacuolisation of the brain tissue and zones of spongiosis. These clinical signs are apparent with most prion diseases, including BSE, but the species transmission from cattle to fish had altered BSE's pathogenesis so that the fish brains exhibited no vacuole formation or spongiosis. As a result, a prion infection was never considered as a causative agent.

The issue was considered resolved and would not be revisited until January 2039, when Lassgard Bioteknik was contacted by the GFN about a possible contaminant in its tuna that was responsible for an increased mortality rate in cats and at least one human casualty. The leaked data reflected that correspondence between William Lassgard, his lawyers, and several other Big Fish companies peaked at this point, resulting in an agreement to jointly protect Lassgard Bioteknik while it internally dealt with the PTAE epizootic. This involved starting a new tuna farming cycle with one of the older feed stocks that did not include bovine waste material and severing ties with its suppliers in the meat packing industry. There were also plans for a significant restructuring and rebranding effort when the Mondiaal Nieuws articles were published, which caused an international outcry following the increased media prominence of the Cariappa-Muren disease (CMD) pandemic.

Forced closure and liquidation

As the Mondiaal Nieuws articles were picked up by other media outlets and public opinion turned against Lassgard Bioteknik, the WHO was able to successfully ban the sale of Lassgard tuna, all of which caused the company's share price to plummet. At the same time, multiple lawsuits and class actions were filed against William Lassgard's person by different governments and consumer organisations, which were funnelled into joint proceedings through the EU's collective redress policy. Lassgard became the public target of this legal campaign because, while Lassgard Bioteknik was subjected to a number of corporate fines, no criminal charges could be brought against the company. According to Swedish law, a company cannot be liable to a criminal sanction, and the use of PAP pellets was permitted under EU regulations.

Lassgard, who had not been heard from for weeks, fled Sweden and disappeared on October 29th 2039, leaving Lassgard Bioteknik's chairperson Nils Törbacka to handle the backlash. Törbacka immediately issued a statement in which he condemned the data leak as a "massive forgery" and dismissed the role of Lassgard tuna in the CMD pandemic as "at most, a contributing factor."[6] The statement was widely ridiculed, but Törbacka doubled down and refused to cooperate with Swedish and international authorities. After he ignored an order from the WHO to shut down Lassgard Bioteknik's facilities in Europe and East Asia, many of which had already suffered employee walkouts, the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) concluded Lassgard Bioteknik was so fraught with problems that it had to be seized.

On November 4th, the FSA appointed a liquidator and coordinated with regulators from four other countries to simultaneously lock down Lassgard Bioteknik's offices and aquaculture farms. Nils Törbacka and other senior officials were arrested by Swedish police when the company's headquarters in Uppsala were raided, which then revealed that Törbacka had been stalling the authorities in order to sell off Lassgard Bioteknik's remaining tuna stock to willing black market buyers.

This paved the way for Lassgard Bioteknik's formal liquidation in the winter of 2039. All its assets were forfeited to pay out creditors and cover legal costs, though most of its fish farming facilities were dismantled rather than sold off, seeing as how the aquaculture industry as a whole was facing widespread criticism and insolvency by that point. Major litigation ended when the liquidation process was completed on February 4th 2040, but regular suits and legal actions related to the food poisoning scandal are still being brought.

Although the WHO investigation ultimately established that Lassgard Bioteknik had only used the contaminated PAP pellets to grow its tuna stock from 2031 onward, the GFN moved to have the company's entire fish and feed stock destroyed. Preservation efforts to release the noninfected fish species into the wild were unsuccessful, and when the ordered destruction was wrapped up by late February 2040, over 240,000 tonnes of fish had been slaughtered, with all carcasses chemically treated to safely break down any residual prions.

References

  1. United Nations. (July 2025). "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2025." Food and Agriculture Organisation↩︎

  2. Bridges, C. (August 2012). "Translation of domestication of Thunnus thynnus into an innovative commercial application." transdott.eu↩︎

  3. World Health Organisation. (January 2039). "Increased cat mortality linked to tuna diets." Bulletin of the World Health Organisation↩︎

  4. European Commission. (January 2013). "Regulation (EC) No 56/2013 amending Annexes I and IV to Regulation (EC) No 999/2001, deleting the prohibition to feed aquaculture animals with PAPs." EUR-Lex↩︎

  5. Munday, B; O'Donoghue, P; Watts, M et al. (July 1997). "Fatal encephalitis due to the scuticociliate Uronema nigricans in sea-caged, southern bluefin tuna Thunnus maccoyii." Diseases of Aquatic Organisms↩︎

  6. Törbacka, N. (October 2039). "A message from Lassgard Bioteknik's interim CEO: We will right this ship." lassgardbio.se↩︎