A state commission on Wednesday denied a Texas company's plan to
sell genetically altered, glow-in-the-dark fish in California pet stores,
calling fluorescent fish an example of science gone wrong.
The decision by the state Fish and Game Commission makes California the
only state to ban GloFish, which will be available for aquariums in the rest
of the country next month. Despite conclusions from several scientists that
the new breed of fish posed little threat to the state's natural resources,
three of four commissioners said genetically engineered pets are simply too
scary to endorse.
"At the end of the day, I don't think it's right to produce a new
organism just to be a pet,'' said Commissioner Sam Schuchat. "What's next? A
pig with wings?''
Schuchat said he consulted with his rabbi about the ethics of the genetic
engineering before coming to his decision.
The ban is the latest round in a continuing battle in California over genetically engineered fish, referred to as transgenic fish. It's a dispute that's only happening here: No other state in the country has rules like California's that prohibit modified fish. The federal government also has no
The ban is the latest round in a continuing battle in California over
genetically engineered fish, referred to as transgenic fish. It's a dispute
that's only happening here: No other state in the country has rules like
California's that prohibit modified fish. The federal government also has no
Austin, Texas-based Yorktown Technologies has spent the past two years
tinkering with zebra- fish, common in a lot of fish tanks, to turn them into
Glo- Fish. The fish are injected with either green or red fluorescent proteins;
their spawn become intensely bright under a black light.
The idea was first developed by a university in Singapore that is
developing a fish that will glow in the dark if it encounters toxins. It's
called an environmental monitoring fish.
Over protests from environmentalists and commercial fishing groups, the
company hoped to convince the commission Wednesday for an exemption to the
state's ban on transgenic fish.
It presented written testimony from scientists concluding that if a
GloFish made its way from a tank to the wild, it would not survive and would
not be toxic to predators.
"These are tropical fish,'' said Ed Pert, chief of the fisheries branch
of the state Department of Fish and Game, noting that zebrafish have been sold
in California pet stores for 50 years and have never survived outside of homes.
Pert and other state officials had recommended the commission allow the
company to sell its product.
Alan Blake, the company's president, told the commission he expected the
GloFish to be a hot seller, noting it had made the front page of the New York
Times and the cover of Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine.
Afterward, Blake said he was disappointed the commission seemed to put
personal preferences ahead of scientific evidence.
"It's unfortunate that the consumers of California won't be able to make
their own decisions,'' he said.
The commission's decision is a big blow to the company. California
consumers buy 25 million fish for aquariums every year and comprise more than
10 percent of the national market.
Michael Flores, the lone commissioner to support the company's plan,
noted anyone who wanted the fish will be able to acquire them in Arizona or
But environmentalists said the risk is too great that the altered fish
could someday wreak havoc on the state's environment. Aquariums are the second
biggest contributor to non-native fish species making their way into
California streams and lakes.
"Why should we take the risk for something so trivial as a pet,'' said
Rebecca Spector, West Coast director of the nonprofit Center for Food Safety.
And several commissioners said they saw no reason to OK a mutated fish
that had no medical or research value. Earlier in the meeting, the commission
did allow a permit to produce transgenic zebrafish that will be used for
But commissioners warned that if they allowed red or green fish, more
requests would likely come.
"Welcome to the future,'' Schuchat said. "Here we are, playing with the
genetic bases of life.''
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle