Mutant maggots expected in fruit exports due to GM fruit fly disease

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(NaturalNews) The same company that released millions of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes into the wilds of the Cayman Islands several years ago is now planning to unleash millions of "Frankenflies" throughout Brazil. Following approval from CTNBio, Brazil's GMO regulatory body, the UK-based Oxitec company plans to release millions of GM Mediterranean fruit flies (Ceratitis capitata) into fruit orchards throughout the South American country, which could end up spreading GM maggots to other parts of the world.

GeneWatch UK reports that the experiment, which has yet to take place, will address the overpopulation of natural Mediterranean fruit flies that are destroying fruit crops such as melons and grapes. Brazil grows these and other fruit crops and exports them around the world, including to the U.S., the UK and various other countries throughout Europe and North America.

According to Oxitec, its GM fruit flies will supposedly reduce the overall population of fruit flies in Brazil by mating with wild flies, producing offspring that are unable to survive into adulthood. The result is that many of them will simply die as maggots on the fruit rather than mature into full-grown flies, a process that will eventually cull the overall population of fruit flies down to a more manageable number.

In order to make this work, the wild fruit fly population must be outnumbered by at least a factor of 10, according to the company, hence the need to release millions of GM fruit flies as opposed to just a few. But in doing so, the leftover maggots on the fruit will then be exported, violating restrictions in some export nations that require proper safety approval and labeling for GM crops. With no way to control their spread on fruit, the GM maggots could mean that Brazil will be breaking import laws.

"In Europe, food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is legally required to be safety tested and labelled[;] however no specific procedures have been adopted to identify GM maggots in fruit imports," explains GeneWatch UK. "Live GM flies could also be transported in the fruit as the genetic killing mechanism affects only female flies."

Oxitec abandons similar fruit fly trial in Spain after failing to demonstrate safety

Oxitec announced a similar experiment in Spain late last year. According to Popular Science, the company had applied with regulatory authorities to release GM olive fruit flies, all male, in orchards throughout the country. The goal was to have the GM males mate with wild females in order to transfer a deadly gene that would cull their populations. Any females produced using the technology would die as maggots, just like in Brazil.

These plans were eventually put on hold, according to Sustainable Pulse, following concerns raised by Spanish regulators about the environmental and health impacts of the trial. The fruit fly trial in Brazil was also put on hold at that time, pending an investigation into how the affected fruit would be regulated by importing countries.

"[R]egulators are starting to ask important questions about the impacts of releasing GM insects on humans and the environment," stated Dr. Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK, following the withdrawal of Oxitec's application in Spain back in December.

"Oxitec's proposals to release millions of GM flies to mate with wild flies would leave large numbers of GM maggots in the olives or fruit. This is unlikely to be acceptable to growers or consumers, so plans to release these GM insects into the environment will bring no benefit and would involve unnecessary risks."

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