GeneWatch UK PR: Response to EFSA Guidance on risk assessment of GM animals

23rd May 2013

Responding to the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA's) publication today of guidance on the risk assessment of GM animals, including fish, insects, birds, pets and farm animals (1), GeneWatch UK expressed disappointment that EFSA did not wait for the European Ombudsman to complete his investigation of its complaint about its failure to consult on GM insects in the food chain and about conflicts-of-interest on EFSA's GM insects working group (2).

"The issue of GM insects in the food chain is still not properly addressed and retailers, farmers and the general public will have concerns that there has been no consultation on this important issue", said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK "GM insects used in agriculture could end up in people's fruit and veg and even inside products such as olives and tomatoes".

GM insects company Oxitec, which has close links to multinational Syngenta, applied to Brazilian regulators in January to release GM Medfly, a fruit pest, in Brazilian fruit farms (3). If the application is approved, millions of GM insects are to be released in an attempt to suppress the wild population. Large numbers of GM insects will die will die as caterpillars and could end up in the food chain. The new EFSA guidance suggests the risks should be assessed in the same way as the risks of eating meat or milk from GM cows, but this method was never intended to address GM insects in the food chain and was not part of EFSA's public consultation.

Elsewhere, the EFSA guidance highlights the enormous complexity involved in trying to assess the impacts of mass releases and escapes of GM fish and GM insects, which can crash wild populations and have unintended effects on whole ecosystems. The possibility that disease-resistant GM pigs or birds could lead viruses to evolve to become more virulent is also highlighted.

"European consumers are likely to have major concerns that adoption of this guidance could open the floodgates for GM farm animals, birds, fish and insects to be produced in the EU or for GM fish or food produced using GM insects to enter the European market", said Dr Wallace.

US company AquaBounty is currently awaiting approval from the US FDA for its GM salmon to enter the US market.

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace, 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile)

Notes for Editors:

(1)    Guidance on the environmental risk assessment of genetically modified animals:

(2)    GeneWatch UK PR: GM insects in food, environment: European Ombudsman investigates conflicts-of-interest at EU regulator. Tuesday 26th March 2013.[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=572226

(3)    Request from Oxitec's partner Moscamed [in Portuguese] Extrato Previo 3462/2013: The chairman of the institution's internal biosecurity, Dr. Aldo Malavasi Son, requests execution of project planned release of genetically modified insects risk class 1 in fruit-growing areas of Juazeiro in Bahia. The research project is called: "Evaluation study of transgenic Ceratitis capitata in order to reduce the pest population in fruit-growing areas of Juazeiro, Bahia", under the responsibility of Dr. Jair Fernandes Virginio. The insects to be released are commonly known as "Mediterranean Fruit Fly", the species Ceratitis capitata, and the proposal aims to assess the efficiency of the control of infestations of orchards in the region of Juazeiro (Bahia), with the release of genetically modified "sterile" males.


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