THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
Dear Friends and Colleagues
USDA Approves First Trials of GE Diamondback Moths, Avoids Full Environmental Impact Statement
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) has denouncedthe US Department of Agriculture's (USDA’s) permit for the world’s first open-air trials of genetically engineered (GE) diamondback moths to be released in the state of New York, by Cornell University, and disputed the validity of the department's "no significant impact" declaration.The federal permit allows releasing up to 30,000 moths per week, over three to four months.
NOFA-NY is concerned that the owner of this technology (originally, Oxitec UK, now Intrexon) never completed a comprehensive, independent health, safety, and environmental review prior to bringing this organism to the United States. It is calling upon the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to require a full environmental impact statement and public hearings under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
Diamondback moths (DBMs), also known as cabbage moths, feed on crucifer crops such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.The purpose of this new GE insect is to reduce pest populations through engineering a new female lethality trait into the male moths. Thousands of these males will mate with wild females which will produce eggs, after which the females will die.The gene makes female offspring die before they reach adulthood.
NOFA-NY believes that the proposed experiments pose unnecessary risks, for example, the health implications of the dead larvae (containing the GE gene) on farmworkers, consumers and surrounding wildlife; the risk of windblown GE DBMs migrating many miles from the trial site; and the possibility of resistance to the female lethality trait evolving. Without a full environmental review, NOFA-NY along with the Center for Food Safety, believe that this experiment should be stopped.
With best wishes,
NOFA-NY DENOUNCES USDA PERMIT TO RELEASE GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MOTHS IN GENEVA, NY
8 July 2017
Farmington, NY — The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) todaydenounced the USDA’s permit for the world’s first open-air trials of the Genetically Engineered (GE) Diamondback moth to be released in Geneva, NY. This announcement came concurrently with the availability of a final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact for the field release of the GE Diamondback moths. NOFA-NY considers the Environmental Assessment lacking comprehensive health and environmental details.
“NOFA-NY considers the release of a novel genetically engineered organism to be a major activity with potentially significant and heretofore unknown health and environmental effects,” said NOFA-NY Policy Advisor Liana Hoodes. “It is now up to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to ensure the safety of its citizens before granting the necessary state permit. We call on the NYS DEC to require a full environmental impact statement and public hearings during a complete review under State Environmental Quality Review Act.”
Hoodes goes on to say, “most of the USDA’s environmental assessment confines its review to the general impacts of the new technology, yet neglects to adequately assess the potential impacts of the trials themselves on farms and residences near the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY and across the state.”
NOFA-NY is concerned that the owner of this technology (originally, Oxitec UK – now Intrexon) never completed a comprehensive, independent health, safety, and environmental review required by international protocols prior to bringing this organism to the United States.
The Diamondback moth is a pest to brassica plants worldwide. The purpose of this new GE insect would be to reduce pest populations of Diamondback moths through engineering a new female lethality trait into male GE moths. Thousands of these males mate with wild females who produce eggs that are laid on the brassica, then the females die. The GE males continue the cycle and suppress the numbers of wild Diamondback moths.
Before such an open air release can happen, Cornell University must apply to the New York State DEC for a permit. Typically, Cornell research permits receive cursory review by the Department, but because this is the first world-wide release of a new insect, NOFA-NY believes in the strongest terms that this action should trigger a full environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Such review must include a public hearing to determine the contents of a Full Environmental Impact Statement.
Both Cornell University and the technology owner Intrexon must fulfil their responsibilities to the citizens of the State for full disclosure of potential impacts prior to releasing such an organism into our air. Without a full environmental review, NOFA-NY believes this experiment must be stopped.
GMO CONCERNS ‘BUG’ MODIFIED DIAMONDBACK MOTH RELEASE
17 July 2017
Despite USDA approval for Cornell to release genetically engineered diamondback moths, organic and food safety advocates urge New York to hold off.
Release of genetically engineered diamondback moths into cabbage plots in upstate New York got a green light from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation still needs to approve the experiment before it can start.
But food safety activists and the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New York oppose that approval, citing concerns over the public health impact of moths employing “female lethality” technology. The proposed Cornell University experiment would be the first open-air trial of this novel organism.
NOFA-NY Executive Director Andrianna Natsoulass argues that USDA’s Environmental Assessment details few health implications of the dead larvae — containing the GE gene — on farmworkers, consumers and surrounding wildlife. Without adequate review, NOFA-NY strongly believes that the proposed experiments may pose unnecessary risks, and calls for the application to be denied.
The genetically modified diamondback moth causes females to die. Males continue to reproduce with their wild counterparts until the moths are under control.
After releasing its final environmental assessment and finding no significant impact, APHIS argues an environmental impact statement isn’t necessary. The reasoning is this: Because GE DBM isn’t used for food or feed purposes and doesn’t contain any GE plant-incorporated protectants with insecticidal properties or GE traits that convey herbicide resistance, neither Food and Drug Administration nor Environmental Protection Agency regulatory actions are required.
Genetically engineered insects
DBMs, also known as cabbage moths, feed on crucifer crops such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Researchers say the engineered insects could be a pesticide-free tool in fighting crop damage
Oxitec, a United Kingdom biotech company, designed the DBMs with a “self-limiting gene.” When the males mate with females, the gene is passed on to the offspring. The gene makes female offspring die before they reach adulthood so they can’t reproduce. The insects die out so the released insects and their genes don’t persist in the environment.
The idea is to shrink the population of moths in the area where the insects are released without using pesticides. The moths are also engineered to have a fluorescent protein marker that is used to track and monitor them.
Oxitec used the same technology to create male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, developed to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like Zika and yellow fever. Last year, federal regulators approved the open-air release of Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes. But that release was delayed.
Even so, the company released the engineered mosquitoes in parts of Brazil, Grand Cayman and Panama. Oxitec officials contend the releases successfully led to declines in Aedes aegypti mosquito populations in those areas.
USDA and research perspectives
Cage and greenhouse studies at Cornell found the engineered moths to be effective at reducing DBM populations. Cornell entomologist Anthony Shelton contends the field trial is needed to get additional information on how these insects could be used for pest management in the future.
As proposed, Shelton and his team would release the GE moths in a 10-acre research field at Geneva, N.Y. The federal permit allows releasing up to 30,000 moths per week, over three to four months.
Sheldon says prevailing wind patterns near Geneva when releases of GE DBMs are most likely to occur would prevent DBM movement into regions where they may successfully overwinter. As a safety measure, APHIS would require about a 500-foot boundary zone in which DBM host plants could not be planted.
However, NOFA-NY points out that windblown DBMs migrate many miles from where they emerge. That’s why the group disputes the claim that male GDM won’t spread far from the trial site.
Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety, says the consumer advocacy organization is also concerned that the use of the GE moths won’t reduce pesticide use. Other insects also eat these vegetables. “If you will still have to spray the same chemicals to kill other pests, where’s the advantage in this?” Hanson says.
There are also other issues: Will export markets, for instance, require the crucifer crops to be labeled as GE? And a bigger question is: Could breeding and release of large numbers lead to a resistance to the female lethality trait? Without a full environmental review, NOFA-NY and the Center for Food Safety believe the plug should be pulled on this experiment.