Scientists, farmers and ecologists warn that the trials put biodiversity and olive production in the Mediterranean region at risk. No one can predict the genetic stability or behavior in the ecosystem of these insects, which could spread uncontrollably.
This week, the plans of the British company Oxitec to release genetically modified olive flies into the environment in Catalonia were known. It is a manipulation that causes the female larvae to die inside the olive. The intention of the company is to release up to 5,000 transgenic flies per week in Spain for one year (1,825,000 in total) near the city of Tarragona. A broad coalition of organizations from Mediterranean countries such as France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain demand that any type of release of these flies be strictly prohibited due to the great risks to biodiversity and olive production that it entails.
”Releasing genetically modified insects into the environment is a dangerous experiment that will turn the whole of Europe into an open-air laboratory. Insects don't respect borders, and sterility is never 100% effective. They could run away from the experimentation area and if, as with so many other trials, things don't go according to plan, it will be impossible to dismantle the experiment. Furthermore, any type of control or withdrawal of these genetically modified insects would be impossible, even more so than with transgenic crops, "said Dr. Janet Cotter, from the Scientific Unit of Greenpeace International.
It is not yet clear whether national authorities have already authorized the experiment. If so, this would be the first case of release of genetically modified animals in the European Union. In 2013 the first request to conduct field trials in Spain was withdrawn after public protests. Oxitec's last application was submitted in March 2015. However, it did not appear in the EU public register until last week. The set release date is July 2015.
"We must not tolerate irresponsible experiments that will inevitably result in accidental releases of genetically modified animals into the environment. With the planet's support systems already under so much stress, any kind of irreversible damage is unacceptable. Furthermore, no consumer wants to eat olives stuffed with dead transgenic larvae. It is high time that we invest in sustainable crop protection methods with a holistic approach, which can satisfy both producers and consumers ", added Margarida Silva, from the Coalition Portugal Free of GMOs.
OX3097D-Bol olive fly flies (name given by the Oxitec company) are manipulated with a mixed DNA of marine organisms, bacteria, viruses and other insects. The intention is for transgenic male flies to mate with native female flies, thereby introducing their modified genes into the existing population. In this way, it is believed that the native olive fly population will decrease, presumably eliminating the economic damage to olive production. The trial would last one year and would occupy an area, covered with nets, of 1,000 square meters. However, if the flies escaped they could disperse uncontrollably. The olive fly is able to spread rapidly in the right environment. Over time, their offspring could spread throughout the Mediterranean region and regions inhabited by native populations.
"Spain is the world's leading producer of organic olive oil, with an area of 170,000 hectares of cultivation. If for any reason this olive comes into contact with the new modified fly larvae, organic producers could lose their certification and the trust of the consumer in organic production would be harmed. Furthermore, the impact on human health has not been adequately evaluated ", has warned Víctor Gonzálvez, of SEAE (Spanish Society for Ecological Agriculture).
If this technology continues, this could, after a long period of time, lead to a reduction of this species in the affected areas. This could severely alter biodiversity, with possible consequences and side effects for the delicate balance of the ecosystem, the environment, and food production systems. Furthermore, the probability that the modified genes will end up being permanently present in native populations is high. Although Oxitec claims that the flies were genetically stable in the laboratory, no one can predict the genetic stability or ecosystem behavior of these insects once they are released.
“This technology appears to have the potential to endanger biodiversity, organic production and the future of olive production in the Mediterranean region. We believe that this experiment is motivated by the interest of Oxitec and its investors in maximizing the benefits of their patent ", has assured Cristoph Then of the German organization Testbiotech," It is time to send a clear signal that these organisms should not be released. Nowhere. Never".
The olive fly is known to be the cause of significant economic damage to olive growers. At present, olive fly control is carried out with insecticides, or by biological methods such as traps, sustainable pruning, irrigation practices, or irradiated sterile insects. The negative socioeconomic impact of these trials could be immense. For example, organic producers might not be able to prevent their products from coming into contact with these flies, and would therefore contain the modified larvae. This could mean the loss of markets - and in an extreme scenario, the entire production of the Mediterranean area could be affected if consumers reject these products.
More information: More information about Oxitec technology HERE. Previous press release HERE.
*** Signatory organizations: Friends of the Earth (Spain), Agrobio (Portugal), BiotechWatch (Greece), Criigen (France), Federation Nationale d 'Agriculture Biologique, FNAB (France), Ecologistas en Acción (Spain), Generations Futures (France), Greenpeace (Spain), GMO dangers (France), Andalusia Platform Free of GMOs (Spain), Portuguese Platform GMO Fora (Portugal), Red de Semillas (Spain), Rete Semi Rurali (Italy), Sciences Citoyennes (France ), Spanish Society for Ecological Agriculture, SEAE (Spain), Testbiotech (Germany).
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