Questionable Claims of Bt Efficacy Against the Fall Armyworm in Africa

 THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE

 

Dear Friends and Colleagues

Questionable Claims of Bt Efficacy Against the Fall Armyworm in Africa

The fall armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda, is a moth pest native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and was first observed in the African continent in 2016, in Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe. It has since spread to most sub-Saharan countries where it poses significant risks to food crop production through yield loss.

Claims have been made that field trials conducted by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project in Kenya, Uganda, and Mozambique on drought-resistant and insect-resistant genetically modified (GM) maize are showing efficacy against the FAW. The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has published a report that examines these claims. Requests from the ACB for data to substantiate these claims have not been provided. Nor have any such data been published in peer-reviewed studies or any other publicly available format that would allow for independent scrutiny by scientists and the public.

Data that do exist on the efficacy of Bt crops in dealing with the FAW derive from the experiences of dealing with the pest in Brazil and elsewhere in the Americas, where the pest originates from, and where GM crops have been deployed to combat it. In Brazil, the FAW has not only developed resistance to numerous chemical pesticides but, crucially, has developed resistance to all but one Bt toxin, sometimes after only a year of commercialisation. Laboratory data showing that resistance can also develop against the final Bt toxin effective in the field suggest that it will likely not be effective for long. The high levels of resistance witnessed in Brazil serve as a warning for what is likely to be repeated in Africa.

The ACB calls on African governments to implement holistic strategies, which are already showing efficacy in the field, to support small-holder farmers. These include various agroecological strategies such as the intercropping, the ‘push-pull’ system and integrated pest management strategies. These are being implemented in both the Americas and Africa and provide sustainable solutions to the FAW.

We reproduce below the Key Findings of the ACB report. 

With best wishes,

Third World Network
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BT MAIZE AND THE FALL ARMYWORM IN AFRICA: DEBUNKING INDUSTRY CLAIMS

The African Centre for Biodiversity
June 2018
https://acbio.org.za/sites/default/files/documents/BT%20Maize%20Fall%20Army%20Worm%20report.pdf

Key Findings

The fall armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda, is a moth native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and was first observed in the African continent in 2016, in Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe. It has since spread to most sub-Saharan countries. How it reached West Africa is subject to speculation though the identification of numerous genetic strains in West and Central Africa suggests that there were potentially multiple introductions.

The limited availability of official statistics (depending on the country) has made it difficult to ascertain the extent of infestation and the impacts of FAW attacks. However, reports from various countries suggest damages have varied from minimal to substantial, with Mozambique reporting crop losses of up to 65% in some regions, while other nations are reporting much reduced or even insignificant damage in 2018.  Damage has lessened and yields seem to have improved in 2018 compared with 2017 due to a variety of factors, including the implementation of control strategies, increased farmer awareness and improved rainfall.

The introduction of the FAW has given proponents of genetic modification (GM) technologies renewed impetus to bring forth the commercialisation of GM crops— especially Bt maize—expressing insecticidal Bt toxins to combat the pest. Those representing the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project and other pro-GM organisations have claimed that Bt toxins expressed in GM maize being trialled for the WEMA project are showing partial to strong protection. However, requests from the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) for data to substantiate these claims have not thus far been provided. Nor have any such data been published in peer-reviewed studies or any other publicly available format that would allow for independent scrutiny by scientists and the public.

The data that does exist on the efficacy of Bt crops in dealing with the FAW derive from the experiences of dealing with the pest in Brazil and elsewhere in the Americas, where the pest originates from, and where GM crops have been widely deployed to combat it. In Brazil, the FAW has not only developed resistance to numerous chemical pesticides but, crucially, has developed resistance to all but one Bt toxin, sometimes after only a year of commercialisation. Laboratory data showing that resistance can also develop against the final Bt toxin effective in the field (Vip3AA20) suggest that it will likely not be effective for long. The FAW is thus far the only insect to have developed resistance to Bt toxins in multiple locations, and its biology appears to make it particularly adapted to developing and rapidly spreading resistance genes.

Currently, there is little information on whether or not Bt toxin resistance already in American populations is present in those that were introduced to Africa. Only one study of one genetic strain in Togo has assessed Bt toxin resistance to date. It also appears that this is not an active area of inquiry by those researching and pushing for the commercialisation of GM crops—a rather negligent approach, considering that Bt toxins expressed in crop plants may be ineffective if resistance is present. The high levels of resistance witnessed in Brazil serve as a warning for what is likely to be repeated in Africa. Even if resistance is not already present, Bt resistance is a natural evolutionary process and it is only a matter of time before it occurs.

Alternative solutions to GM and industrialised models of crop and food production are being implemented and researched. One such solution is the climateadapted push-pull system that has been shown to decrease damage by over 80% across Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian farms, and to significantly increase yields. Such agro-ecological practices can be immediately deployed, at little financial or biosafety risk to small-holder farmers. We strenuously urge governments to withstand the external pressures to introduce GM crops and to reject the unsubstantiated claims that they present a ‘panacea’ to FAW attacks.

Questionable Claims of Bt Efficacy Against the Fall Armyworm in Africa

 BT MAIZE AND THE FALL ARMYWORM IN AFRICA: DEBUNKING INDUSTRY CLAIMS

The African Centre for Biodiversity
June 2018
https://acbio.org.za/sites/default/files/documents/BT%20Maize%20Fall%20Army%20Worm%20report.pdf

Key Findings

The fall armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda, is a moth native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and was first observed in the African continent in 2016, in Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe. It has since spread to most sub-Saharan countries. How it reached West Africa is subject to speculation though the identification of numerous genetic strains in West and Central Africa suggests that there were potentially multiple introductions.

The limited availability of official statistics (depending on the country) has made it difficult to ascertain the extent of infestation and the impacts of FAW attacks. However, reports from various countries suggest damages have varied from minimal to substantial, with Mozambique reporting crop losses of up to 65% in some regions, while other nations are reporting much reduced or even insignificant damage in 2018.  Damage has lessened and yields seem to have improved in 2018 compared with 2017 due to a variety of factors, including the implementation of control strategies, increased farmer awareness and improved rainfall.

The introduction of the FAW has given proponents of genetic modification (GM) technologies renewed impetus to bring forth the commercialisation of GM crops— especially Bt maize—expressing insecticidal Bt toxins to combat the pest. Those representing the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project and other pro-GM organisations have claimed that Bt toxins expressed in GM maize being trialled for the WEMA project are showing partial to strong protection. However, requests from the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) for data to substantiate these claims have not thus far been provided. Nor have any such data been published in peer-reviewed studies or any other publicly available format that would allow for independent scrutiny by scientists and the public.

The data that does exist on the efficacy of Bt crops in dealing with the FAW derive from the experiences of dealing with the pest in Brazil and elsewhere in the Americas, where the pest originates from, and where GM crops have been widely deployed to combat it. In Brazil, the FAW has not only developed resistance to numerous chemical pesticides but, crucially, has developed resistance to all but one Bt toxin, sometimes after only a year of commercialisation. Laboratory data showing that resistance can also develop against the final Bt toxin effective in the field (Vip3AA20) suggest that it will likely not be effective for long. The FAW is thus far the only insect to have developed resistance to Bt toxins in multiple locations, and its biology appears to make it particularly adapted to developing and rapidly spreading resistance genes.

Currently, there is little information on whether or not Bt toxin resistance already in American populations is present in those that were introduced to Africa. Only one study of one genetic strain in Togo has assessed Bt toxin resistance to date. It also appears that this is not an active area of inquiry by those researching and pushing for the commercialisation of GM crops—a rather negligent approach, considering that Bt toxins expressed in crop plants may be ineffective if resistance is present. The high levels of resistance witnessed in Brazil serve as a warning for what is likely to be repeated in Africa. Even if resistance is not already present, Bt resistance is a natural evolutionary process and it is only a matter of time before it occurs.

Alternative solutions to GM and industrialised models of crop and food production are being implemented and researched. One such solution is the climateadapted push-pull system that has been shown to decrease damage by over 80% across Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian farms, and to significantly increase yields. Such agro-ecological practices can be immediately deployed, at little financial or biosafety risk to small-holder farmers. We strenuously urge governments to withstand the external pressures to introduce GM crops and to reject the unsubstantiated claims that they present a ‘panacea’ to FAW attacks.

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