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Genetically Modified Insects


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Feb 13, 2019, 12 a.m.

British biotech Oxitec announced to the world its large scale genetically modified mosquito farm in Brazil in 2012 which was instituted with the goal to decrease incidence of dengue fever. An article Antimedia article has brought to the public’s attention that millions of genetically modified mosquitoes have been released in Brazil.


3.5% of the GM insects in a laboratory experiment still managed to reach adulthood despite carrying a deadly gene, according to Todd Shelly, entomologist for the Department of Agriculture in Hawaii who says “tetracycline and other antibiotics are showing up in the environment via soil and surface water sample testing. These GM insect mosquitoes were designed to die off in the absence of tetracycline, which was introduced in the lab in order to keep the alive just long enough to breed. In a lake with tetracycline exposure these GM mutant insects could continue to live and actually thrive in the wild; potentially creating a rather nightmarish scenario. Which legitimately brings to question the safety of undergoing further genetic modifications of insects.


Oxitec previously released a huge number of GM olive flies to kill off wild pests that damage crops. 3 million GM mosquitoes were released in the Cayman Islands, in this case over 90% of the original natural native mosquito population was suppressed, much like in Brazil.


GM mosquitoes are now being considered to stop spread of other viruses. The media is reporting two sides of the coin, one suggesting this may be a solution, and the other suggesting they may be linked to the virus and it can get difficult to separate fact from fiction. Regardless there are things to be concerned about when it comes to GM insects such as if one were to receive a bite from one of them what happens? Can their GM DNA be injected from the bite?  Quick to counteract any such objections Oxitec says they only plan to release male insects which do not bite. In theory it sounds great, but in reality sorting millions of insects by sex is no small task, which even FKNCD notes that every effort is made to release only males; and trials show that .03% of the GM mosquitoes released are females.


With millions of these GM insects being released we are still talking about thousands that can bite, estimates are that 50-100 million were released into the environment. Where is the environmental health impact report, and what about the synthetic DNA from bites, who is tracking all this, and how is it tracked? Why is everything just assumed to be ok without any evidence to back it up?


There is a real potential for these genes which can hop from one place to another to infect human blood by finding entry via bite, skin lesions, or inhaled dust, which could bring havoc to the human genome by creating insertion mutations and unpredictable type of DNA damage.


Dr. Helene Wallace warned about the GM fruit flies that were released a few years ago that ...releasing GM fruit flies is a flawed approach as large numbers of their offspring will die as maggots in fruit….which will fail to protect crops and millions of GM fly maggots will enter the food chain where they may pose risks to human health and the environment....experiments should not continue until rules for safety testing and plans for labelling and segregation of contaminated foods have been properly debated and assessed.” Wallace adds that “regulatory decisions on these GM insects are biased by corporate interest as such companies have infiltrated decision making processes around the globe. The public should be shocked to learn these GM insects were released without any proper oversight, and conflicts of interest should be removed from all decision making processes to ensure public safety and to make sure they have a say in such plans.”


Environmental agencies warn these GM insects could have unintended and wide ranging harmful impacts on the environment and human health due to complexity of ecosystems and the high number of unknown factors that make risk assessment very difficult which include:


New insects or disease filling ecological niche left by suppressed or replaced insects which may result in new public health or agricultural issues.

New engineered genes into insects may jump to other species in horizontal transfer causing unintentional consequences to the ecosystem.

Such releases are impossible to monitor and will be irreversible, as would be any damage done to the environment.


Briefings conducted by environmental agencies attest that Oxitec is trying to influence regulatory processes for GM insects, they are trying to avoid any regulation of GM pest on crops in the food chain, have released millions of GM insects prior to regulations, have excluded important issues from risk assessments such as impacts on human health, and are undermining requirements to obtain informed consent for experiments involving insect species which transmit disease.



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