(CNS): As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US considers whether to approve the experimental use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, the Cayman Islands is planning another trial release of the mutant mozzies this year. But GeneWatch UK, an NGO focused on the genetic industry, has published new evidence that genetically modified insects could spread antibiotic resistant bacteria into the environment, posing a risk to human health.
The GM insects that US officials want to release and which could be coming to Cayman again were developed by the British biotech firm, Oxitec, which conducted experiments here in 2010, in conjunction with the MRCU, releasing the insects in East End.
Mosquito controllers in Florida say that after years of spraying, the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have developed a resistance to most chemical pesticides. Now, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District wants to try the genetically modified bugs and hope to begin spraying in the spring. The MCD says the surveys it commissioned of area residents suggest that 60 per cent are OK with the trials, and 10 to 20 per cent are opposed. Meanwhile, the plan in Cayman is to go to public consultation before another controlled release takes place on Grand Cayman.
However, GeneWatch says that the GM mosquitoes and agricultural pests used by Oxitec are bred using the common antibiotic tetracycline in their feed and so an open releases of such GM insects could spread antibiotic resistance into the environment, potentially creating more superbugs.
“Mass production of GM insects in factories, using antibiotics as an additive in their feed, could lead to drug resistance in bacteria, leading to the spread of superbugs as billions of insects are released into the environment in future,” warned Dr Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK’s Director. “This important risk to human health has been ignored by regulators, despite bans on the use of antibiotics in animal feed in many countries.”
Following the release here in 2010, other experimental releases of tens of millions of the mosquitoes have taken place in Brazil and Panama. GeneWatch maintains that if their commercial use is adopted, billions of Oxitec’s GM insects would be released year after year in attempts to suppress wild pest insect populations over vast areas and perhaps whole countries.
“If such GM insects became a new source of antibiotic resistance worldwide, this could have serious adverse impacts on human and animal health,” the organisation stated.
The report raises concerns that the bacteria and antibiotic resistant genes may spread through the insect population, from the mainly male GM insects that are released to their wild mates and offspring, and that horizontal gene transfer may lead to transfer of antibiotic resistance to bacteria, causing food- and water-borne diseases, such as E. coli, via larvae that develop in food (agricultural pests) or water (mosquitoes).
GeneWatch also points to the possible transfer to humans or animals, for example by swallowing GM agricultural pests at the larval stage when they will contaminate fruit and vegetable supplies, or swallowing GM mosquito larvae via contaminated water.