Fishy Business Genetically Modified Fluorescent Fish Illegally Smuggled into Germany

German authorities are concerned that genetically modified fluorescent fish are being smuggled into the country. Even though the fish are legal in the US, dealers here face fines of €50,000 or five years in jail.


There has been widespread concern in Europe about genetically modified organisms, with protesters warning of the dangers of "Frankenstein foods." Now glow-in-the-dark Frankenstein fish have been smuggled into Germany -- and the authorities are concerned about the illegal trade.

The genetically modified fish, which have had their DNA tinkered with so they exhibit red, green or orange fluorescence, are sold in the United States under the trade name "GloFish" for $5 each. But the refashioned fish are banned in Europe.

Recently, though, they have been surfacing illegally in Germany. Specimens were discovered in a specialist store in the northern German city of Kiel, authorities from Schleswig-Holstein's Ministry of Agriculture confirmed Monday.

Ministry spokesman Christian Seyfert told the German news agency dpa that dealers at an ornamental fish fair in Kiel had also tried to sell the glowing fish. The organizers had banned those dealers from the fair and informed the district veterinary office, he said.

Seyfert said that the genetically modified zebra fish had been smuggled in from Poland and probably came originally from Asia. He said authorities were investigating the trade routes and had informed Germany's other federal states of the danger. Breeders and sellers of the genetically modified zebra fish face fines of up to €50,000 and prison sentences of up to five years.

However Hans-Jörg Buhk, head of the genetic engineering department of Germany's Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, believes that the genetically modified fish likely pose little risk. "You have to put a check on it at the beginning," he said. "Otherwise you have the effect of opening a door, and then you can't stop it any more. You can't predict how things will develop."

Scientists in Singapore originally created the fish to detect pollution, adding a color gene from a sea anemone to zebra fish eggs. If there are pollutants in the water then the fish light up, in up to five different colors.

The American company Yorktown Technologies quickly recognized the business potential of glowing fish and secured exclusive marketing rights in the US. "GloFish fluorescent fish are safe for the environment and make wonderful pets for new hobbyists and experienced enthusiasts alike," the company's Web site claims.

According to the firm, there is no risk if the fish get out into the wild. "Zebra fish are tropical fish and are unable to survive in non-tropical environments," the Web site explains.

dgs/dpa

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