Activists concerned over survival of GM mosquitoes
(CNS): An environmental activist group is still raising concerns about numerous errors and omissions in the risk assessment process regarding a UK company’s research into the use of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes. GeneWatch said Oxitec’s release of these engineered insects in large numbers including 3 million in the Cayman Islands in an experiment to reduce the incidence of the tropical disease dengue fever lacked consultation. Using the Freedom of Information system in the UK the environmentalists found many issues surrounding the experiment were not properly considered including invasive mosquito’s becoming established at release sites and the potential for large numbers of GM mosquitoes to survive.
Large numbers of the GM mosquitoes were also released in or Brazil as well as Cayman and a smaller number Malaysia which was the only place the activists say there was consultation with the public.
“Failure to publish risk assessments before trials of GM mosquitoes in Cayman and Brazil, and the omission of known adverse effects, is irresponsible”, said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatchUK “People cannot give informed consent to trials if they are not given complete information.”
The release in Cayman took place in 2010, in East End, officials from the Mosquito Control and Research Unit here stated that the experiment was safe as the male GM mosquitoes were infertile and therefore couldn’t breed. The local officials said that research results showed a decline of some 80% in the local pest’s population in the area of the release.
However, the activists have persistently claimed that the GM mosquitoes’ sterility is partial and conditional. “The GM mosquitoes do breed and most die at the larval stage: the extent to which their offspring survive to adulthood is one of many factors which influences the efficacy and safety of this approach,” the environmentalist group stated.
Some of the results of Oxitec’s experiments have been released to the press but they have not yet been published in scientific journals and the activists claim that the experiment was ineffective which is a matter of particular concern in dengue endemic areas. “In some situations partial or temporary suppression of mosquito populations could make the dengue situation worse,” GeneWatch said in a release.
Aside from not correctly following the procedure for trans-boundary notification of shipments of GM mosquito eggs overseas the activists criticize the firm and the UK government over the failure to publicise risk assessments prior to open release trials. They say numerous important issues were not properly considered before millions of GM mosquitoes were released in to the environment in the Cayman Islands and Brazil.
Smaller experiments in Malaysia did include a consultation process, however there were some deficiencies with the process, GeneWatch suggested.
“In its publicity about the trials, Oxitec has oversimplified the complex relationship between Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, other mosquito species, the humans that are bitten, and the four serotypes of dengue virus,” GeneWatch said. “This means that most potential adverse impacts have effectively been excluded from public debate, the risk assessment process, and the process of seeking consent from local populations.
Documents now held by GeneWatch obtained through FOI requests are also said to show that the UK and Brazilian governments agreed in 2007 to test and commercialise the technology in Brazil, based on claims made by the company that it would be effective.
“A new production facility has now been built in Brazil to increase GM mosquito releases to 2.5 million per week. “The rush to commercialise Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes in Brazil could be putting people’s health at unnecessary risk,” said Dr Wallace. “There has been no attempt to consider human immunity effects or to monitor the impacts on immune response or the incidence of dengue”.
"The decision to scale-up experiments in Brazil appears to be driven by a political agreement to commercialise Oxitec’s technology there, rather than by a thorough assessment of the likely risks and benefits," GeneWatch said..
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