Originally published February 22 2014
UK company Oxitec plans to release GM mosquitoes in Panama without required risk assessment
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) A British vector-control firm is planning to release genetically modified mosquitoes in Panama before the company performs an adequate risk assessment, according to several reports.
The group GM Watch, an organization established to "counter the enormous corporate political power and propaganda of the biotech industry and its supporters," according to its website, reported Feb. 12:
Oxitec's notification for the export of GM mosquito eggs to Panama contains no risk assessment for its planned experiments, despite this being a requirement under EU law. GeneWatch UK warned that the Panamanian authorities or the Gorgas Institute could be liable if anything goes wrong with the experiments, as they have failed to require the company to assess the risks.
No risk assessment
For its part, Oxitec says it "is a pioneer in controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops. Through world class science we have developed an innovative new solution to controlling harmful insects pests." But critics of the company say introducing untested GM mosquito eggs into ecosystems in Panama is a recipe for trouble -- as well as a potential legal problem for the company.
"Oxitec's risk assessment is an essential part of the decision because it gives the company's view on everything that could go wrong with the experiments" said Dr. Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, another anti-GMO organization.
"It is negligent of Oxitec to fail to do this risk assessment, which should meet European standards. It may be impossible to hold Oxitec liable for anything that's incorrect or missing if the experiments have been approved based on a different risk assessment that they claim they haven't even seen," she added.
According to one report in a local Panamanian newspaper, El Siglo, the company planned to bring the GM mosquito eggs to the Central American country by Feb. 15. The local paper said Oxitec was planning on releasing some 240,000 of the mosquitoes per week after they began hatching. The experiments were planned to begin in Nuevo Chorrillo, in the Arraijan district of Panama. The Panamanian Public Health Ministry approved the experiments.
GeneWatch said the group has previously drawn attention to "a number of issues" that Oxitec should be addressing in a risk assessment so that local populations can make informed decisions regarding the release.
IF all goes according to plan...
"Local people in Panama must be asked for their fully informed consent before these experiments begin," Wallace said. "This means the risks must not be hidden by the company. People must be able to discuss the pros and cons of these experiments and have a right to have their say."
Oxitec says its GM mosquitoes have been genetically programmed to die at the larvae stage, according to local reports:
They are bred in the lab in the presence of an antidote to the genetic killing mechanism (the common antibiotic tetracycline), then vast numbers of males (millions for an experimental release or billions for a commercial one) are released into the environment so they outnumber the wild males and mate with wild females. Because most of the offspring die before adulthood, this is intended to reduce the wild population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the tropical disease dengue fever.
What could go wrong?
"Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are part of a complex system which includes other mosquito species, the viruses they carry, and the humans that they bite," Wallace said. "Local people should be aware that releasing large numbers of GM mosquitoes can pose risks to their health and the environment. They also need to know who will be liable if anything goes wrong - will Oxitec take responsibility for any problems, or just walk away?"
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