A Multidisciplinary Approach for Anticipating the Presence of Genetically Modified Fish in France

  • Catherine Mariojouls
  • Muriel Mambrini
  • J. S. Joly
  • F. Sohm
  • S. Barrey
  • L. Boy
  • I. Doussan
  • Y. Bertheau
  • J. Davison
  • A. F. Schmid
  • L. Coutellec
  • F. Varenne
Conference paper


Transgenic aquaculture species with improved growth rates are at the premarket stage in the United States and may be produced in countries with less drastic regulations for environmental protection. The French market is widely supplied by imports from all over the world. Regarding the crisis provoked by plant GMO (genetically modified organisms) production, rumors of the unauthorized importation of GMF (genetically modified fish), even if fortuitous, would undoubtedly have detrimental effects on public confidence, and consequently on fish market and innovation systems.

To anticipate such a situation, the DOG.M.ATIS project (2007–2010), funded by the French Research Agency (A.N.R.), proposes to develop dedicated strategies through multidisciplinary approaches and to deliver:
  • A critical analysis of the technological reality and expected evolution of GMF by characterizing the impact of the transgene and transgenesis technique on transgene stability and flow

  • Development of some methodologies and possible routes of GMF detection, based on detection strategies for plants and establishing specific methods for GM fish

  • An assessment of the risk of the fortuitous presence of GM fish in our markets by crossing the data from the scientific literature and an expert analysis of filtered statistics of international trade

  • An assessment of public perception levels, using focus groups for analyzing the opinions of citizens and performing interviews with businesses and NGOs

  • Development of drafts for dedicated regulations and laws, developed based on an analysis of the current regulations for GM organisms and of the gaps existing within the reality of GM fish and the fish market chain

  • A description of examples of GMF and the ethical implications, moving beyond the very classical–theory-driven–scientific descriptions used in the GMO debate up to now

DOG.M.ATIS is a network of scientists in various fields: fish genetics and transgenesis, GMO detection, fish market economy, consumer sociology, law, philosophy, and epistemology. We propose to unravel the multiple dimensions of GMF with progressive interdisciplinary approaches that will deliver results to be exploited both by experts in the different disciplines involved and by the overall network.


Foreign Trade Transgenic Fish Ornamental Fish Market Chain Sentinel Fish 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

1 Technological Reality

Since the first publication in 1987, more than 1,400 articles have been published dealing with transgenic fish. The first technique employed was micro-injection into one-cell-stage embryos. It is operant, but lacks efficiency: the first generation is mosaic; neither the copy number nor the genomic location of the transgene is controlled. This leads to (1) the inevitable production of two generations before the transgenic line can be stabilized, (2) the lack of control of transgene expression, and (3) the selection of an integration event. This technique is still the easiest and most employed, and transgenesis has been carried out on the main aquaculture species and model fish. For most of the cases, transgenic aquaculture species are initially produced in research laboratories to study the main functions (growth, reproduction, disease resistance). The number of transgenic model fish lines produced has largely increased in recent years because of gene function and regulation studies. This leads to a strong dynamic for improving transgenesis efficiency: techniques for mass transformation, facilitation of genomic integration, and control of the site of integration are currently being tested. The patents published so far (90 references) serve five different purposes:
  • Improved livestock production (40%)

  • Bio-protein production (20%)

  • Dedicated biosensors, sentinel fish (10%)

  • Appearance of ornamental fish (6%)

  • New techniques (24%)

The risk of fortuitous presence is a reality, and transgenesis production and purposes will rapidly evolve. Our strategy is:
  1. (i)

    To quantify the actual risk by merging results obtained so far on transgenic fish with economic data

  2. (ii)

    To anticipate the evolution of GM fish by characterizing the impact of the transgene and transgenesis techniques on transgene stability and flow


2 Risk of Fortuitous Presence and Effects on the Market

World aquaculture production is growing tremendously (from 1 Mt in the 1950s to 63 Mt in 2005, including plants) and within 5 years will probably comprise 50% of the seafood consumed. The European Union imports 50% of the consumed aquatic products, and half comes from non-European countries.

For finfish, in 2005, the EU (15) imported 5.6 Mt (€16.6 billion) and showed a foreign trade deficit of 1.6 Mt and €6.5 billion. European markets, and notably those in France, are widely supplied by imports from all over the world, among which farmed fish make up an increasing proportion. The import of GM fish, if commercially produced in an exporting country, thus appears to be possible in the near future. Considering the impact of the issue of GM plants, it is very likely that such an event would cause a crisis in consumer confidence.

To estimate the actual risk of fortuitous import of GMF, we use a crossed methodology with several steps:
  • Using the available scientific information (gathered in the GMF database and through bibliographic synthesis) and our expertise, we aim to (i) identify the species and countries concerned by trangenesis, and (ii) score the probability of commercial production and export, considering the state of the fish culture sector and foreign trade, and the regulatory framework

  • Analyzing the import statistics of fish in France and Europe, we try to point out the trade flows likely affected by GM species at the premarket stage and estimate the possible risk of finding GM fish; this analysis requires a good knowledge of the organization of the European supply chain and of the aquaculture sector in the countries of origin, as the production mode (capture or culture fisheries) is not mentioned, nor the species for some taxa like tilapia, in the foreign trade statistics

Fish is a product known to varying degrees by European consumers. The French are generally do not eat much fish: fish consumption requires socialization, and most consumers look for advice from vendors and need to feel confident about what they buy. When buying fish, they take into account the way the fish was produced and commercialized. Mentioning the existence of GMF within this particularly fragile context could lead to extreme reactions. Therefore, we plan to develop methodologies that will highlight the perceptions of the public and the professionals, and the collective building of risk perception, instead of trying to measure the discrepancy between perceived risks and real risks. We assume that the consumers and actors have practical knowledge that deserves analysis. We aim to try to anticipate the changes in consumer behavior when faced with information from the media, NGOs, government, and businesses.

Regarding the consumers, we analyzed purchase situations by organizing consumer focus groups where we invited the consumers to talk about fish, and then GM fish, following a list of subjects developed in a collaboration among sociologists, economists, and philosophers.

The first results of the focus groups that have already been performed led to three points: (i) a variability in consumer perception of “natural” and “artificial;” (ii) some unusual ideas of consumers about the GMF research sector; (iii) some new forms of criticism of the oppression and marketing characterizing present society, notably concerning health and the environment.

Our study also includes in-depth interviews of economic actors and representatives of NGOs about their perception of GM fish, both as a possible innovative technique in fish culture and as a possible new food product.

3 GMF Regulation

The main concepts of the European directive (2001/18) on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms into the environment are:
  1. (i)

    Diversity of the evaluation criteria

  2. (ii)

    Assessment of possible cumulative effect

  3. (iii)

    Bio-security monitoring plan

  4. (iv)


  5. (v)

    Assessment of the benefits and

  6. (vi)

    Public consultation

This can hardly be adapted to GMF, not only because none of the new requests can be immediately fulfilled, but also because only confinement is considered and not fortuitous presence. Neither the market chain nor the European network of GMO laboratories is ready to apply regulations 1829/2003 and 1830/2003 for GMO food and feed authorization and traceability. The regulation gap for ornamental fish is even more obvious. The European Council is currently discussing a regulation (SEC2006/421) concerning the use of alien species in aquaculture, which considers only the environmental risk and excludes the case of GMF. Considering the risk of negative perceptions of GMF by consumers, the complexity, opacity, and international dimension of the market, international trade conflicts can be easily foreseen. We propose developing a method to draw up regulation drafts in connection with public and private stakeholders. It includes the following steps:
  1. (i)

    Identification of the main principles driving the norms concerning GMO.

  2. (ii)

    Sustaining the production of regulations by the European Commission, and

  3. (iii)

    Integration of the overall results of DOG.M.ATIS to demonstrate the dynamic interaction between public and private bodies. In addition, we will propose means and ways to ensure GMF traceability


4 GMF Traceability

For plants, analytical methods have to be provided by GMO developers, and traceability has been made mandatory to ensure reliable and cost-effective co-existence frames. Moreover, a modular approach concept has been developed to validate analytical methods in numerous food and feed matrices in a cost-effective way, a concept that is ready to be used in other areas of detection. The specifics associated with GMF detection identified so far are: the variability of the transgene copy number in the host genome, the nature of the transgene, the lack of knowledge of the transgene flanking regions, the large discrepancy of the matrices to be analyzed (from live fish or eggs to freeze-dried compounds and multicompounds food and feed), and the necessity to identify the species and the donor organism for screening methods. We will do this sequentially and on experimental samples (chosen according to the results of the risk assessment study):
  1. 1.

    Test the applicability of the different detection strategies used for plants

  2. 2.

    Analyze their cost and efficiency

  3. 3.

    Test their adequacy to quantify transgene presence

  4. 4.

    Test the possibility of multiplexing with species detection techniques

  5. 5.

    Optimize DNA extraction (efficiency, cost, and purity)


Our objective is, once protocols have been established, to propose guidance for carrying out GMF traceability taking into account the expected regulation and the features of the fish market chain.

5 GMF and Ethics

The arrival of plant GMO provoked a break. The lack of acceptance of GMO is partly explained by the fact that the technique is perceived as artificial. Biotechnologies in general raise ethical problems, and ethics is indeed a generic science of interdisciplinary frontiers. This means that these problems also have to be considered by biologists themselves. The debates on GMO organized these last years in Europe have been mostly driven by experts having a very classical–theory-driven–representation of science. The evaluation criteria came either from epistemology of the theories or from some classical philosophies of technology. Obviously, assumptions and highlights from epistemologies of models are missing. With fish, we are still upstream from an eventual crisis, but we already can confirm that the consumers have a preconception of what a GMF is. Our objective is to work out a global frame for future debates where both epistemologies of theories and models will be to some extent reunified with bioethics and technology assessment. We will (i) identify the epistemological profiles associated with GMF, (ii) analyze the connections between ethics and epistemology, considering that the epistemological requirement accompanies the ethical questions, and (iii) propose to identify the concepts discriminating the potential impacts of GMF on human representations, using an original methodology of collective work to explore probable forthcoming intellectual strategies for GMF.

6 Conclusions

We propose to unravel the multiple dimensions of GMF with progressive interdisciplinary approaches that will deliver results to be exploited both by experts in the different disciplines involved and by the overall network (Table 1). The integrated chain approach is framed to release original and dedicated methods, novel research objectives in each domain covered by the project, and strategies for stakeholders. We have already identified the ways to interact with the economic actors in the market chain and with the public. The network is already sufficiently productive to stress international connections.
Table 1

Specific objectives/deliveries of the interdisciplinary work of DOG.M.ATIS

Interaction leader






Final deliverable



− DNA libraries

− Features of the transgenes

− Transgene stability/flanking regions

− Key elements for producing transgenic lines

− Environmental impact/confinement

− Case studies

− GMF produced: species and country of origin

− Case studies

− Genome integrity

− Case studies


Technological reality


− Detection protocol


− Extent and organization of traceability

− Applicability regarding the market chain

− Adequacy/risk

− Adequacy/risk (completed)




− Impact of the GMF at the premarketable stage

− Guidance for setting up traceability


− Regulation agencies surrounding GMF

− Key principles to take into account trade and consumer perception

− Key principles to consider GMF representations



Economy/ sociology

− Structure of the market, trade by species and country, main products

− Species, samples and matrix to be analyzed

− Adequacy regarding market chain and consumers

− Regulation agent


− Description of the market chain

− Perceptions/representations of consumer and economical actors


Risks of fortuitous presence


− Impacts of novel transgenesis technique

− Definition of biological integrity

− Adequacy of the detection regarding public confidence

− Natural/artificial frontier

− Animal welfare/law

− Representations and economical/market risks

− Public rationality


GMF representations, benefits and risks, common vocabulary


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine Mariojouls
    • 1
  • Muriel Mambrini
    • 2
  • J. S. Joly
    • 3
  • F. Sohm
  • S. Barrey
    • 4
  • L. Boy
    • 5
  • I. Doussan
  • Y. Bertheau
    • 6
  • J. Davison
  • A. F. Schmid
    • 7
  • L. Coutellec
    • 7
  • F. Varenne
    • 8
  1. 1.Agro Paris Tech, UMR SAD-APTParis Cedex 05France
  2. 2.Laboratoire de Génétique des PoissonsInstitut National de la Recherche AgronomiqueJouy-en-JosasFrance
  3. 3.DEPSN UPR 2197, CNRSGif-Sur-YvetteFrance
  4. 4.CERTOP UMR CNRS 5044Toulouse cedexFrance
  5. 5.CREDECO/GREDEG, UMR 6227ValbonneFrance
  6. 6.Phytopathologie et Méthodologies de la Détection, INRAVersailles cedexFrance
  7. 7.INSAVilleurbanne cedexFrance
  8. 8.Université de Rouen Place E. BlondelSaint-AignanFrance

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