- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The nation’s first genetically altered household pet — a fish that glows in the dark — is set to begin appearing in stores next month, everywhere except perhaps California, the only state with a ban on lab-engineered species.

The GloFish was developed by scientists in Singapore who found they could turn the normally black-and-silver zebra fish green or red by inserting genes from jellyfish or a sea anemone. The tropical fish appear to glow in rooms lit with ultraviolet or black light.

It will be sold starting Jan. 5 in pet stores nationwide.

Today, the California Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to take up an application from Yorktown Technologies of Austin, Texas, to market the GloFish in California.

State wildlife officials have concluded that the Florida-grown fluorescent zebra fish poses no danger, and they have recommended that the state exempt it from the ban. But environmental and public interest groups, with commercial fishermen, oppose an exemption.

Yorktown Technologies President Alan Blake has given assurances that GloFish are safe even if flushed down the toilet, dumped into the local swimming hole or eaten by a house cat or a 2-year-old.

The company plans to market its GloFish in other states, whether or not California gives it approval. That is why opponents are pressing for federal regulation.

“What California says is going to make very little difference in the long run if all the other states are going to allow them,” said Peter Jenkins, an attorney and policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety.

California’s regulations against what critics call “Frankenfish” were prompted by fears that genetically altered farmed fish, such as salmon, could get loose and devastate the state’s wild populations.

The fluorescent fish, however, are even less tolerant of cold water than natural zebra fish and are unlikely to survive if they escape, the Fish and Game Department said in recommending an exemption. Independent researchers found that no harm would come from eating the fish.

Some environmentalists still fear GloFish could find their way into warm waters in the wild and establish themselves. But their larger fear is that the GloFish’s introduction could open the floodgates on other genetically engineered species.

The Washington-based Center for Food Safety, along with the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and others, is pressing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the marketing of such creatures.

Federal agencies say they have no jurisdiction. Unlike, for instance, bioengineered salmon, zebra fish are not intended as food, so the FDA says it has no power to regulate. The Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Agriculture also have passed.

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