The end for fancy goldfish?

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The government has confirmed that a study on freak pets, including fancy goldfish and genetically modified fish, will help shape the forthcoming Animal Welfare Bill.

The study titled Breeding and Welfare in Companion Animals has been produced by the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) and emphasises the many problems that occur in pets through selective breeding.

According to a report in The Times, Ben Bradshaw MP, the minister responsible for animal welfare at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has received a copy of the CAWC report and has confirmed that it will be used in some parts of the new Animal Welfare Bill.

Bradshaw told The Times: "The CAWC report is particularly well-timed, given the opportunity the Animal Welfare Bill offers to government to support measures to raise breeding standards."

The report says that there has long been a drive for novelty by breeders who produce pets, and not long after species are first bred in captivity new colour morphs and other strains that differ from the wild type are produced and start to be selected.

Fancy goldfish, which have been selectively bred for centuries and modern forms such as genetically modified fish like the Glofish, are mentioned in the report.

Citing a reference in the book "Goldfish: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual" by Marshall Ostrow, the report says that Oranda goldfish, which have a fleshy crown on the top of their heads may develop bacterial and fungal infections as debris settles in the folds, which has the potential to cause "chronic pain and irritation".

Veiltail goldfish, which Ostrow called "one of the most beautiful strains... and also one of the weakest" are said to be "at risk of injury and infection" because the fins are delicate: "In this case, it would seem that it is the feature that is selected for - the delicateness of the tail - that results in the welfare risk."

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"The Water-Bubble Eye goldfish has been selected for upturned eyes surrounded by very large fluid-distended periorbital skin sacs, which at maturity obscure vision and hamper swimming. This variety may also lack a dorsal fin and have a double tail fin. Because the eye sacs can rupture easily, leading to pain and infection, it is recommended by aquaculturalists that there should be no sharp objects in their aquaria.

"The telescope form of the eyes of the telescope goldfish are inherited as a recessive trait and begin to protrude from the head at six months of age until they extend as much as 2cm from the head in adults. These protruding eyes may be at greater risk of damage through trauma."

The report has been criticised for using popular aquarium books as the source material rather than new evidence from scientific papers.

No mention is made in the report to the frequently criticised production of Parrot cichlids, or to dyed fishes.

Defra confirmed to Practical Fishkeeping in February 2006 that dyed fish would be illegal to produce in the UK but would remain legal to sell under the Animal Welfare Bill as this is intended to cover only animals mutilated in the UK.

It is not yet known whether this means that the forthcoming Animal Welfare Bill will potentially curb the sale of selectively-bred fancy goldfish but allow the sale of fishes that have been tattooed or injected with coloured dyes, or how the legislation will affect other selectively-bred fish produced for the aquarium trade overseas.