Aquarium shops warned about potential GM fish

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DEFRA officials have warned aquarium fish dealers in the UK that they risk prosecution if fish they import turn out to be genetically modified, Practical Fishkeeping can exclusively reveal.

The GM Inspectorate at the UK's Central Science Laboratory sent a letter warning fish dealers that GM fish were not authorised in this country, and that they would face prosecution if fish they imported subsequently turned out to be genetically modified.

The move followed reports from Practical Fishkeeping concerning the production techniques used to develop red Zebra danios, in which we highlighted that the fish were either dyed or genetically modified.

Red danio sales and imports stoppedThe GM Inspectorate said that it had become aware that red danios had been made available in the UK trade and that it was in the process of investigating whether the fish were dyed or genetically modified.

Sarah Hugo, the Head of the GM Inspectorate, wrote: "Pending the results of these investigations, we are asking that fish importers do not import or trade any red danios (or other recently available coloured/fluorescent danio varieties).

"The importation into, or the acquisition, release or marketing of any genetically modified (GM) organisms within the UK is prohibited unless a consent has been granted in accordance with Article 111 of The Environmental Protection Act 1990."

Hugo said that any such fish that have been ordered should be held in isolation by importers pending the results of the GM Inspectorate's investigation, which will be reported as soon as results are available.

Risk of prosecutionAnyone who continues to import red danios during the period in which DEFRA has requested a suspension of imports could potentially leave themselves open to prosecution, if the fish are found to be genetically modified and not dyed.

Authorities in Holland and Germany told DEFRA that genetically modified danios had appeared in their ornamental fish trade which had a uniform red-pink body.

Although dyed fish would be illegal to produce in the UK, it is not illegal to import them. Practical Fishkeeping runs a successful campaign which asks dealers to sign an agreement not to stock the fish. 74% of UK aquarium shops have signed up.

Genetically modified daniosRed genetically modified danios are produced in Singapore and Malaysia and contain an extra RFP (Red Fluorescent Protein) gene in their genome from a coral, which causes them to fluoresce pink under certain UV-rich lighting.

The fish are sold legally in the USA by Yorktown Technologies under the trademarked name of GloFish. The apparent flood of illicit GM fish is not in any way connected to GloFish.

Alan Blake of Yorktown Technologies told Practical Fishkeeping: "Yorktown Technologies has worked very hard to responsibly manage the distribution of GloFish fluorescent fish and is very much opposed to the marketing of any GM fish without the appropriate regulatory approval."

Contrary to some media reports, genetically modified danios are not sterile.

One Practical Fishkeeping reader successfully bred the GM GloFish sold legally under licence in the USA shortly after they were introduced into the trade in 2004.

SingaporePractical Fishkeeping has seen a letter from Singapore's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) which says that it has not authorised the export of any consignment of genetically modified fish.

It says that it had to take enforcement action recently against a supplier who illegally imported red danios, which tests later confirmed to be genetically modified.

Following the enforcement, the AVA says that it reminded all importers and exporters that the import, export or commercial release of GM fish in Singapore required approval.

The AVA says it is monitoring the situation and will not hesitate to take action against traders suspected or confirmed to be responsible for any GM fish import or export which lacks the approval of the AVA.

Anyone who has further information on the availability of red danios in the UK is asked to contact the GM Inspectorate on 01904 462 223 or the Fish Health Inspectorate on 01305 206 673. Those in Singapore should contact Poh Yew Kwang on +65 675 19802.