GM mosquitoes: ‘Cayman Islands unreliable model’

Posted on December 11, 2010. Filed under: Bio-diversity |

freemalaysiatoday.com–

By G Vinod

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian public are in the best position to decide if the soon-to-be-released genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes is the most effective method to combat the dengue menace.

GeneWatch United Kingdom (UK), a non-profit group that monitors genetic engineering issues worldwide, however, said adequate information must be provided by Oxitec Limited, the producers of the GM mosquitoes.

Its director, Helen Wallace, said that Oxitec cannot use the Cayman Islands’ project in 2007, which it touted as a success, as a model for the latest experiment. This is because the island did not have biosafety regulations in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the GM mosquitoes.

“The Cayman Islands is not even a member of the Aarhus Convention or Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity which would require it to consult the public and produce an environmental risk assessment before releasing GM mosquitoes into the environment.

“Cayman Islands appears to have been used by Oxitec to bypass the regulatory requirements that apply in the US or the European Union (EU),” she said.

The Malaysian government is keenly promoting the GM mosquito project using the Cayman Islands as the model to justify the proposed release in stages of the GM mosquitioes into several parts of the country, saying that the Cayman project had managed to reduce the Aedes population by 80%.

Wallace, however, dismissed the figures, saying that there has been no documented proof to substantiate the claims by Oxitec.

“The company now says it is producing an environmental impact assessment following the Cayman Islands project, but nothing has been made public. It still has not addressed concerns over the impact of the long-term release of GM mosquitoes,” she said.

Company making losses

Oxitec, which had been running at a loss since 2008, had thus far been evading scrutiny by the Malaysian public, said Wallace.

A check by FMT on the company’s financial statement as of Dec 31, 2009, showed that it had suffered losses of 1,697,952 British pounds in 2009 and 1,712,994 pounds in 2008 (see table above).

Wallace said that it was clear that Oxitec was under tremendous pressure to commercialise its GM mosquito project to generate revenue and Malaysia must be wary.

“The company is losing about 1.7 million pounds annually. It needs to meet all the regulatory requirements first before it can begin marketing its product and is under pressure from investors keen to recoup their investments.

“As a business entity, it needs to keep generating new markets for its GM mosquitoes and developing countries are its primary targets,” said Wallace.

Malaysia’s National Biosafety Board (NBB) plans to release between 3,000 and 4,000 GM male mosquitoes in Bentong, Pahang and Alor Gajah, Malacca soon in a trial to suppress the Aedes population.

The progeny of the GM male mosquitoes die before they can hatch, thus preventing the spread of the deadly dengue virus. The move by the NBB has come under fire by several concerned groups, among them the Third World Network.

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