Glofish may be the first genetically engineered pets but with no rules to control them who knows what will happen?
Then, as consumers around the world rejected newer GE food
crops, likeUS maize, the biotech industry came up with a novel
propagandacampaign. They are now spending millions of dollars to
convince us thatGE is an essential technology for feeding poor
people in the developingworld (never mind that most of the GE crops
currently grown are used tofeed animals, not humans).
The latest GE product to hit the shelves illuminates the fact
thatthis technology has little to do with feeding people. Genetic
engineershave made a zebra fish that glows in the dark - the
GloFish. Of course,we wouldn't be surprised to hear the GE industry
claim that GloFishwill feed the world, revolutionise pet ownership,
and help find carkeys lost in dark aquariums the world over...
What's all the fuss about a little aquarium fish?
Genetically engineered organisms are novel creatures - they've
neverbefore existed on the planet. We have no way of predicting
what havocthey will cause when they are released into the wild.
Scientists havestudied what other GE fish species might do and
their conclusions areworrying - depending on the fish, GE varieties
could invade ecosystems,threaten populations of native species, or
cause other unpredictabledamage. Aquarium fish get introduced into
native ecosystems all thetime, and can survive in the warmer waters
of some springs and aroundindustrial wastewater pipes, so this
really is no laughing matter. Anyescape would be irreversible - the
escaped fish could not be recalledlike a supermarket product can be
fisheries supervisor at the Michigan Department of
NaturalResources, likened genetically engineered fish to an
invasive species."You threaten entire ecosystems," he said. "You
don't know how thosenew animals are going to behave in the wild.
They could cause ouroriginal stocks to die off. They could be
susceptible to diseaseoutbreaks. They could change their life cycle
patterns. Who knows?"
California has recently banned the sale of GloFish in the
state.Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Schuchat explained the
decision thisway: "Creating a novelty pet is a frivolous use of
this technology. Nomatter how low the risk is, there needs to be a
public benefit that ishigher than this."
But is it a fish or is it a drug?
Amazing as it may seem, there is no agency of the US Government
thatconsiders itself responsible for evaluating the risks of GE
aquariumfish. A few years ago, the US Food and Drug Administration
(US-FDA)announced that they would regulate such fish as animal
drugs. But whenthe company selling the fish, Yorktown Technologies,
submitted a NewAnimal Drug Application to the US-FDA this year for
GloFish approval,the agency backed away from its claim to regulate
aquarium fish anddeclined to consider the application stating that
the fish was not adrug. (Those bureaucrats clearly have a firm
grasp on the obvious).
Forget for a moment the absurdity of regulating an aquarium fish
asa drug. Regulatory agencies sometimes make bizarre definitional
leapsin order to use already existing laws to regulate completely
newproducts - like glow-in-the-dark zebra fish. What the FDA
decisionmeans is that the fish is now being sold in stores in the
US withabsolutely no review of its potential to cause damage to
theenvironment. In deciding not to regulate the fish, the US-FDA
hascreated a regulatory vacuum of immense proportions - there is
now nofederal agency responsible for assessing whether these fish,
or anyfuture genetically engineered pets, may pose environmental or
"Not to make a pun, but I think it's shedding a light on
seriousregulatory and safety issues that are not getting much
attention," saidArt Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at
the University ofPennsylvania. "This is going to be a very
important issue. The fish isjust the first wave on the beach."
On January 14, 2004, the Center for Food Safety and the Center
forTechnology Assessment filed a lawsuit against the US Food and
DrugAdministration and its parent agency, the US Department of
Health andHuman Services, to block the sale of the GloFish. The
lawsuitrepresents the first-ever legal action seeking to block the
sale of agenetically engineered animal. The lawsuit also asks the
court todecide that the US-FDA must regulate genetically engineered