Archived news articles - 2003

The Straits Times, 25 July 2003
By Chang Ai-Lien, Science Correspondent

400 imported GM fish that glow in dark seized
Wholesaler didn't have AVA's special permit needed to import genetically-modified organisms

A BATCH of more than 400 genetically-modified (GM) aquarium fish, the first GM animals to be brought here for sale, have been confiscated by the authorities.

Throwing a spanner into plans to sell the fish here, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said the importers did not declare the special status of the ricefish that glow green in the dark - they have been implanted with jellyfish fluorescence genes - or get proper permits for their sale.

However, the company that brought the fish in, aquarium supplies wholesaler Adec Trading and Services, said the AVA gave it the wrong information on the approval process.

According to an AVA spokesman, the fish were confiscated because 'these are different from normal fish as they contain alien genes, and the greatest concern is that they could get released into the wild and wreak havoc with our ecosystem'.

'We would like to remind all ornamental fish dealers and the general public not to import, purchase or keep transgenic fish as none has been approved for sale here so far,' he added.

But Adec's director Gan Li Lian said the company had called AVA to ask about the import procedures, and was told that no special declaration was needed, as long as the proper fish name was indicated.

She said: 'We were not trying to flout the law. In any case, none of the dealers or members of the public that I spoke to here knew that it was an offence to have such fish. There were no announcements and this all comes as a surprise to us,' she said.

In response, AVA said this was not the case.

'Our officers are thoroughly briefed on import and export procedures for ornamental fish. We did not receive any call regarding the import of transgenic fish.'
Madam Gan said the company bought a few hundred fish from a wholesaler who drove in from Malaysia, and had been planning to import up to 1,000 fish from Taipei-based pet store chain Taikong Corporation, if they were approved for sale.
Taikong says there is no danger of the fish reproducing in the wild because those sold commercially have been rendered sterile.

Although the fish, called TK-1, are already being sold in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, many developed countries shy away from GM products, particularly animals. In the United States, for example, no transgenic animals have been approved for sale.

To bring commercial GM products into Singapore, an importer must seek the AVA's approval under the oversight of Singapore's GM organisms watchdog - the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee, said AVA's Wildlife Branch head Lye Fong Keng.

The committee will set up an expert panel to assess the risks posed by the products and advise the AVA on their safety. They can be imported only after they are deemed safe by the AVA and a special permit is issued.

Officials from the AVA have been conducting checks on aquariums and wholesalers here to make sure that none of them has the TK-1 fish.

The case is still being investigated. Those with queries can contact the AVA on 6751-9804.

Anyone who imports GM organisms into Singapore or possesses them without prior consent from the AVA can be fined up to $10,000 and jailed for a year.

Copyright @ 2003 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

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