RIVM logo, National Institute for Public Healthe and the Enviroment. Minsty of Health, Welfare and Sport

Genetically modified ornamental fish in the Netherlands. 'A glowing problem?'

Genetisch gemodificeerde siervissen in Nederland. 'Een gloeiend probleem?'


In 2006 and 2008, aquarium owners in the Netherlands were found to be marketing a genetically modified zebrafish, known by the trademark of GloFish. European Union regulations only allow this fish to be sold to licensed companies for scientific purposes. Its sale to private individuals is therefore illegal. Importers and retailers who are not registered with an officially recognized professional association and private aquarium owners are generally unaware of these regulations. The current sale/trading of GloFish among private aquarium owners appears to occur on a small scale, but this is expected to increase. Improved biotechnology tools are also making it easier to construct genetically modified fish. Not all genetic changes in fish are easily discernible, such as an expanded water temperature tolerance. Consequently, the introduction of such exotic fish into Dutch temperate waters has the potential to disrupt the ecological equilibrium. These are the conclusions of an investigative study carried out by the RIVM by order of the Inspectorate of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment. This study was the consequence of a lead indicating that GloFish were being offered for sale on the internet to private individuals. In this particular case, the type of GloFish was a zebrafish that had been genetically modified to emit a red fluorescence when exposed to ultraviolet light. All of the evidence accumulated to date indicates that this type of Glofish is not dangerous to public health or to the environment. The detection of GloFish by Dutch customs officials during their importation is difficult given the large numbers of ornamental fish that arrive at Schiphol airport each day. When GloFish are imported, they should be properly labeled so custom officers are aware that these fish, of which the import to private individuals is illegal, are genetically altered.

Home / Documents and publications / Genetically modified ornamental fish in the Netherlands. 'A glowing problem?'

RIVM Committed to health and sustainability