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California blocks sale of fish bioengineered by NUS don

SACRAMENTO (California) - Citing ethical concerns, Californian state regulators have refused to allow sales of the country's first bioengineered household pet, a Singapore-developed fluorescent zebrafish.

The GloFish is expected to go on sale everywhere else in the United States next month.

California is the only state with a ban on genetically engineered species, and the Fish and Game Commission said on Wednesday it would not exempt the zebrafish even if an escaped fish poses no threat to the state's waterways.

'For me it's a question of values, it's not a question of science,' said commissioner Sam Schuchat. 'I think selling genetically modified fish as pets is wrong.'

The 3-1 vote came moments after commissioners approved the state's 14th licence for research into genetically modified fish. But commissioners drew the line at permitting widespread sales of a biotech fish for pure visual pleasure.

The fish is a creation of Associate Professor Gong Zhiyuan from the National University of Singapore, an expert who has been working with zebrafish for eight years.

He produced the red, green, yellow and orange fish with fluorescent genes from jellyfish and sea anemones.

The world's first genetically modified pet to hit the market was a Taiwan-created green ricefish, which went on sale in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia earlier this year.

US agencies have decided they have no jurisdiction over a bioengineered household pet that is not intended for consumption. Given California's extensive review, proponents had looked to its approval to dampen any concerns from other states or consumers that the zebrafish might be harmful to the environment, or if consumed by wayward pets or children.

Opponents view the decision as precedent-setting as they lobby for regulation at the national level.

Yorktown Technologies of Texas, which has the licence to market the fish, and the state of Florida, in which the fish are grown, argued before the commission that the altered fish tolerates cold less than natural zebrafish, and that they cannot survive in California waters.

Environmental and public interest groups and commercial fishermen argued that the fish has been found to survive outside its native waters.

But Mr Schuchat said: 'At the end of the day, I just don't think it's right to produce a new organism just to be a pet. To me, this seems like an abuse of the power we have over life, and I'm not prepared to go there today.' -- AP