by Arjun Walia
September 10, 2013
Thousands of Genetically Modified (GM)
insects developed by British scientists are set to be released into
fields across Europe as an alternative to chemical pesticides.
Granted, pesticides have been
responsible for jeopardizing human health, damaging the environment
killing millions of bees and other insects, but is the proper
solution manufacturing genetically modified insects?
The idea is to release a large number of GM olive flies that will be
used to kill off wild pests that damage the crop. The company
responsible for their manufacture and release is
They plan to release GM male
that would naturally mate with the females, ultimately resulting in
the death of female offspring at the larvae or maggot stage. The
thought is that this would lead to a reduction in the olive fly
population, which would allow the trees to produce fruit without the
need for chemical sprays.
Oxitec has applied to Spanish regulatory authorities for permission
to carry out a netted field trial of its GM insects.
If the trial is successful, more trials
will be carried out in Greece and Italy - the company also
eventually hopes to be able to use the GM insects in British fields
Our approach is aimed not only at
controlling the olive fly, but also to avoid harming other
species. By using our form of genetic sterility our flies are
designed to eliminate the pest and not to stay in the
Oxitecís Dr Martha Koukidou.
In my view the use of GM insects to
eradicate this pest is a necessary step towards achieving zero
pesticide use. Critics of this technology who warn of danger to
health and environment are scaremongering. European agriculture
is facing some severe challenges.
The burden of agricultural pests is
ever present while the number of control approaches is shrinking
in the face of insecticide resistance and de-registration of
existing chemical treatments.
To survive and prosper, European
farming will need to evaluate and embrace new solutions and new
technologies which are effective, sustainable and safe.
If approved, this evaluation will be
an important step to brining an exciting new approach to the
farmers who need it.
Hadyn Parry, Oxitec chief
Supporters of the GM insects, like
Oxitec, claim that those who oppose the idea are simply fear
mongering. This is currently the same response from the big biotech
giants to opposers of genetically modified foods.
Recently, we have found out that
opponents of genetically modified foods have been correct with their
concerns, as multiple studies have surfaced over the past couple of
years that indicated GMOs can be very harmful to the environment, as
well as pose multiple risks to human health.
Itís no different with these genetically modified insects,
mosquitoes to be exact, theyíve already been released into the
public without a proper risk assessment.
Dr Helen Wallace, director of
GeneWatch UK, warned:
Releasing Oxiteís GM fruit flies is
a deeply flawed approach to reducing numbers of these pests,
because large numbers of their offspring will die as maggots in
Not only does this fail to protect
the crop, millions of GM fruit fly maggots will enter the food
chain where they could pose risks to human health and the
Oxitecís experiments should not go
ahead until rules for safety testing and plans for labeling and
segregation of contaminated fruits have been thoroughly debated
and assessed. If these issues are ignored, growers could suffer
serious impacts on the market for their crops.(1)
So what does this mean for animals that
eat these flies as part of their routine diet? Or what about the
humans that then eat these animals?
Plans to commercialize GM insects would
result in millions of GM insects being released onto field crops,
including olives, tomatoes, citrus fruits, cabbages and cotton.
Millions of GMO mosquitoes have already been released in experiments
intended to reduce transmission of the tropical disease dengue
fever, did you know about this?
The release of GM insects are covered by
laws and regulations that cover the release of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs),
however, there is no specific regulatory process for GM insects
anywhere in the world. (2) (3)
Regulatory decisions on GM insects
in Europe and around the world are being biased by corporate
interests as the UK biotech company Oxitec has infiltrated
decision-making processes around the world.
The company has close links to the
multinational pesticide and seed company,
already made large-scale open releases of GM mosquitoes in the
Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Brazil and is developing GM
agricultural pests, jointly with Syngenta. (2) (3)
The public will be shocked to learn that GM insects can be
released into the environment without any proper oversight.
Conflicts of interest should be removed from all decision making
processes to ensure the public have a proper say about these
Dr Helen Wallace, Director of
GeneWatch UK. (4)
The use of GM technologies is
Some organizations such as
GeneWatch UK and
fear that reliance on high-tech solutions like genetic modification
detracts from more effective but poorly deployed measures to combat
the harm caused by insects.
These are the companies we need to hear
more about because they are the ones that directly monitor the use
of genetic technologies.
Environmental NGOs like Greenpeace
suggest that GM insects could have unintended and wide ranging
impacts on the environment and human health due to the complexity of
ecosystems and the high number of unknown factors which make risk
These companies have raised a number of
concerns which include: (2)
New insects or diseases may fill
ecological niche left by the insects suppressed or replaced,
possibly resulting in new public health or agricultural
The new genes engineered into
the insects may jump into other species, a process called
horizontal transfer, causing unintended consequences to the
Releases would be impossible to
monitor and irreversible, as would any damage done to the
A briefing done by these organizations
also shows that Oxitec is trying to influence regulatory processes
for GM insects, that they: (3)
Donít want to be liable for any
Try to avoid any regulation of
GM agricultural pests on crops appearing in the food chain
Excludes important issues from
risk assessments, like the impact on human health
Release of large amounts of GM
insects prior to regulations
Undermining the requirement to
obtain informed consent for experiments involving insect
species which transmit disease
The list of concerns go on and on.
This is something that you donít hear in
corporate media, despite the importance of dialogue, it seems
developments within this field are sneaking by very quietly.
Concerning ourselves with our food,
health and our environment is something we need to take very
seriously. Developments that should attract a great deal of concern
are happening without anybody knowing about them.
These are some of the most important
issues that our world faces today and some of the most important
issues that will contribute in shaping the near future of our planet
and the path we choose to take.