GeneWatch PR: Caribbean Governments warned against GM mosquito releases

 Thursday 13th November 2014

Caribbean Governments warned against GM mosquito releases

GeneWatch UK today warned that attempts by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) to sell UK company Oxitec's genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica are based on misleading claims about the benefits and a failure to recognise the risks.

"Oxitec's GM mosquitos have no proven benefits and bring unnecessary risks" said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK "Caribbean Governments should not fall for the misleading sales pitch from the UK Government or the company". 

Oxitec has received more than 4.5 million pounds in grants from the UK Government and its GM mosquitoes are being promoted by UKTI and British embassies around the world in the hope that biotechnology exports will help the UK economy recover from recession.

Oxitec's GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are intended to be released in vast numbers to mate with wild mosquitoes. Their offspring are genetically programmed to die at the larval stage, with the aim of reducing the wild mosquito population. However, in Brazil, researchers have confirmed there has been no reduction in dengue in areas where Oxitec has conducted experimental releases of GM mosquitoes and Oxitec has also confirmed that it cannot show any reduction in disease (1). In fact, a dengue emergency has been declared in the town in Brazil where Oxitec's GM mosquito experiments are taking place (2). 

Commercial releases of Oxitec's GM mosquitoes have been approved by Brazil's regulator of genetic technologies, CTNBio, but not yet by its Health Surveillance Agency, ANVISA. No results of Oxitec's experiments in Brazil have been published in scientific journals. Although Panama has recently conducted trials, many other countries have refused or delayed experiments and Malaysia and the Cayman Islands have ceased early trials.

Both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which means they should require a risk assessment by Oxitec to be sent to them before agreeing to import GM mosquito eggs from England. According to the Protocol's Biosafety Clearing House website, neither country yet has the necessary biosafety laws in place to regulate an open release of GM mosquitoes. GeneWatch UK has previously raised concerns about Oxitec's failure follow the required risk assessment process or include a proper assessment of the risks before releasing its GM mosquitoes into the environment (3). Scientists have also raised concerns about the poor quality of the risk assessments (4) and scientists in Brazil have warned of possible adverse consequences for human health (5). 

Risks include that:

  1. the more invasive species Aedes albopictus moves in and becomes the main transmitter of dengue and chikungunya;
  2. reducing the number of Aedes aegypti actually increases the severity of dengue, due to reducing human immunity to dengue haemorrhagic fever;
  3. antibiotic resistance is spread  via gut microbes in the GM mosquitoes, which are fed the antibiotic tetracycline during mass breeding as an antidote to the genetic killing mechanism;
  4. biting female GM mosquitoes are released and increasing numbers of GM mosquitoes survive for multiple generations, due to the development of resistance or encountering the antidote tetracycline in the environment.

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace: +44-1298-24300+44-1298-24300 (office), +44-7903-311584+44-7903-311584 (mobile)

Notes for Editors

(1)  Brazil to unleash GM-mosquito swarms to fight dengue. New Scientist 23rd July 2014. ;

(2)  Alarm at renewed dengue emergency situation in municipality where GM mosquito trials conducted. Joint Press Release: Agricultura Familiar e Agroecologia (AS-PTA), Red América Latina Libre de Transgénicos (RALLT), Third World Network, GeneWatch UK. 8th July 2014.[cid]=574133&als[itemid]=574678

(3)  Failures of the transboundary notification process for living genetically modified insects. GeneWatch UK. August 2014. ; Genetically Modified Mosquitoes: Ongoing Concerns. By Helen Wallace. TWN Biotechnology & Biosafety Series 15.

(4)  Reeves RG et al. (2012) Scientific Standards and the Regulation of Genetically Modified Insects. Lehane MJ (ed.) PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 6(1): e1502.;jsessionid=C3DC4FD0650E395B0FD63D275A9703B5#pntd-0001502-g001

(5)  Technical Opinion on Examination Request presented at the 171st Plenary Meeting of the National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) (10th April 2014).

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