THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
Dear Friends and Colleagues
Questioning the Expansion of GM Mosquito Releases in the Cayman Islands
The UK company Oxitec, now owned by US company Intrexon, first conducted experimental open releases of its controversial genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands in 2008-09. Experimental releases re-started in the Cayman Islands in 2016 and there are plans to expand these releases to a larger scale roll-out in 2017.
A new briefing by GeneWatch UK summarises the questions and concerns about these plans. It calls upon the decision-makers in the Cayman Islands to thoroughly consider whether releases of Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes are effective; how much they cost and whether they are cost-effective; and the existence of alternatives. It further calls for the development of the necessary criteria, procedures and subsidiary legislation to properly assess the risks of scaled up releases, and regulate the use of this technology.
The briefing lays out specific questions that need to be answered. These include, inter alia, questions on: the scientific protocols for the proposed future trials and for combining GM mosquito releases with other vector control measures; independent evaluation and monitoring; the proposed procedure for environmental risk assessment and if the draft policy and regulations will be published and subject to public consultation; and whether protocols will be developed and published to minimise and detect the risk of the accidental release of biting female mosquitoes.
Oxitec’s patented technique for genetically modifying insects is known as RIDL (Release of Insects carrying a Dominant Lethal genetic system). The mosquitoes are genetically engineered to die at the larval stage in the absence of the antibiotic tetracycline, which acts as a chemical switch to allow breeding in the laboratory. Oxitec’s male OX513A GM mosquitoes are intended to mate with wild females and produce offspring which die as larvae. Besides the Caymans Islands, Oxitec has conducted experimental open releases of its GM mosquitoes in Malaysia, Brazil and Panama.
We reproduce below the Conclusions and Recommendations of the briefing.
With best wishes,
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
Websites: http://www.twn.my/and http://www.biosafety-info.net/
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OXITEC’S GENETICALLY MODIFIED MOSQUITOES: READY TO ROLL OUT?
The UK company Oxitec, now owned by US company Intrexon, first conducted experimental open releases of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands in 2008-09. Experimental releases re-started in the Cayman Islands in 2016 and there are plans to expand these releases to a larger scale roll-out in 2017.1 A significant expansion of GM mosquito releases raises important questions about cost effectiveness, scientific protocols, risk assessment and public consent. This briefing summarises the questions and concerns about these plans. Key questions are:
- Is this technology effective?
- How much would it cost and is it cost effective?
- Are the Cayman Islands’ regulations adequate?
- Have alternatives been properly considered?
Conclusions and Recommendations
Before any further open releases of GM mosquitoes are considered:
- Decision-makers in the Cayman Islands must thoroughly consider whether releases of Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes are effective; how much they cost and whether they are cost-effective; and the existence of alternatives. The relevant information, including the results of Oxitec’s 2016 trials and estimates of future pricing, should be made publicly available.
- The National Conservation Council (NCC) and Department of Environment must develop the necessary criteria, procedures and subsidiary legislation to properly assess the risks of scaled up releases, and regulate the use of this technology. Policies should be subject to public consultation;
- The recommendations of the WHO’s Vector Control Advisory Group (VCAG) should be implemented, including: the need for proper scientific protocols to assess the impacts of the proposed releases on all relevant diseases; and the need for rigorous independent monitoring and evaluation;
- Much more openness is needed about the proposed trials, including detailed answers to specific questions.
In particular, a clear process needs to be set out for decision-making on proposed future trials. Some specific questions that need to be answered are:
- What are the scientific protocols for the proposed future trials, including: epidemiological and population endpoints to measure impact on adult female mosquito populations and risk of disease (for zika, dengue and chikungunya); and the protocols for combining GM mosquito releases with other vector control measures, including spraying?
- How will independent evaluation and monitoring of the proposed trials be implemented? How will monitoring be funded? What is the proposed procedure for environmental risk assessment and will the draft policy and regulations be published and be subject to public consultation?
- Once the procedure is established, will future environmental risk assessments be subject to public consultation?
- What will the procedure be for amending or expanding licences?
- What is the purpose of the amendment to the existing permit reported in October 2016, which allows GM pupae to be transferred to a new insectary? Does this mean there have been breeding problems, and what are the implications for the proposed experiments?
- What are the expected future costs of the trials and future annual costs, and how is this intended to be funded? As well as the production costs of the GM mosquitoes, what are the costs of sufficient technical and production capacity, quality control processes, methods for management and mitigation in the case of adverse effects, and ongoing stakeholder engagement?
- Will the results of the current trials be published in a peer reviewed journal before a decision to expand the trials is taken?
- Will there be any independent scrutiny of Oxitec’s trial results to date?
- What evidence currently exists regarding the presence and role of Aedes aegypti and other mosquito species in transmitting zika, dengue and chikungunya on the Cayman Islands? For example, will monitoring trap data and mosquito population estimates be published? Will locations of cases of these diseases be published, including the locations of the non-published zika cases of 2016, as well as evidence regarding disease transmission for all species (including Aedes albopictus and Culex species)?
- What measures will be taken to assess and address potential impacts of GM mosquito trials on other mosquito species? Will a proper study be undertaken of the potential impacts of other species on disease, prior to any decisions on undertaking further trials?
- How will other potential risks be more thoroughly assessed? For example: will feeding trials be used to test the risk of consumption of GM mosquitoes by other species; will the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria be investigated before GM mosquitoes are released; will potential breeding sites, including septic tanks, be surveyed for tetracycline contamination; will the GM mosquitoes be tested for disease transmission properties before they are released?
- What quantities of the antibiotic tetracycline will be used during the GM mosquito breeding process, how will this be regulated, and how will disposal be controlled and monitored?
- If new releases do take place, how will impacts on other mosquito species be monitored, in the short- and long-term?
- Will protocols be developed and published to minimise and detect the risk of the accidental release of biting female mosquitoes; the use of contaminated feed; and the evolution or accidental introduction of GM mosquitoes which are resistant to the killing mechanism?
- Will an economic report be published prior to any decision, assessing the potential effects of long-term wide-scale releases of GM mosquitoes on the tourism industry?