- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 13, 2003

While they won’t arrive until after the holidays, florescent green and red GloFish will soon be available to aquarium owners thanks to the FDA’s decision earlier this week not to regulate the fish.

The zebra fish, which are normally black and sliver, glow because of a gene transplanted into them from a fluorescent sea coal. They were modified by a Singaporean scientist, in the hope that the color change would demonstrate the presence of pollutants. While that application has not emerged, the fish appear to have plenty of commercial potential.

The possibility that GloFish would become the first formally genetically altered household pets to go on the market alarmed a number of consumer and environmental groups. They urged the FDA to regulate the fish, or even ban them, as the state of California did earlier this month.

However, the FDA was right to consider the question from strictly a standpoint of safety. After all, there are profound differences between genetically modifying pets — or plants — and people. The justifiable concerns that many have about human genetic engineering have no place in the debate about permitting the sale of GloFish. Rather, it is simply whether or not the fish are a danger to the environment.

That seems unlikely. GloFish are an aquarium fish, so they pose practically no threat to the food supply (aside from the occasional fraternity initiation). Nor are the tropical fish likely to be an environmental hazard, since North American waterways are too cool to support them. As the FDA argued in its decision, there is no evidence that the fish are “any more threat to the environment than their unmodified counterparts which have long been widely sold in the United States.”

Moreover, humans have both kept and consumed genetically altered flora and fauna for millennia. Cats and dogs, corn and wheat are just a few of the living things people have changed through the slow and uncertain processes of selection and breeding. Cats have shrunk in size since they were domesticated in ancient Egypt. Twelve thousand years of domestication have made great danes and chihuahuas rather different from their nearest ancestor, the grey wolf. Kernels of wheat and cobs of corn have both become bigger than their natural counterparts, thanks to the natural selection of farmers.

The emergence of genetically modified fishes and foods in the marketplace will continue to raise eyebrows. While the FDA should evaluate those concerns, it should not hesitate to allow the purchase of products that pose no threat to human health.

The FDA made the proper decision to neither regulate nor postpone the arrival of the fish. While GloFish are already available in some places, those who want to light up their aquariums may have to wait for their official release early next month.


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