GeneWatch UK PR: GeneWatch UK slams adoption of GM animals guidance by EU advisory committee

Thursday 18th April 2013

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) today adopted guidance on the environmental risk assessment of GM animals including fish, insects, birds and mammals, such as farm animals and pets (1).

"EFSA's adoption of these rules today paves the way for commercial production of GM fish, insects, birds, pets and farm animals such as pigs and cattle in our fields, skies, rivers and seas. Some GM animals will be deliberately released and others will escape from contained production," said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK "Too little is known to predict the consequences of releases of GM insects and fish on our environment, and GM farm animals will inevitably suffer during the production process".

A complaint against EFSA by GeneWatch UK is currently under investigation by the European Ombudsman, concerning conflicts-of-interest on EFSA's GM Insects Working Group and the failure to consult on the risks of eating GM insects used in agricultural production, such as GM fruit flies and olive flies (2). EFSA claims it has now included the issue of GM insects in the food chain in its Guidance, but this has not been subject to any public consultation. GeneWatch UK also raised many other objections to the content of EFSA's draft Guidance during the consultation process (3) and questioned EFSA's mandate to conduct this work (4). 

"EFSA's decision to push ahead before the ombudsman's investigation is completed, without proper consultation on GM insects in the food chain, shows contempt for ordinary citizens who have genuine concerns" said Dr Wallace, "There has been no debate in the European Parliament or any democratic process to consider whether people want GM animals to be commercialised".

GM salmon, produced by the US company AquaBounty, is currently awaiting approval to become the first GM animal food to be consumed on the US market. 

Earlier this week, the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh announced the birth of a GM piglet called Pig 26, as part of a research programme aiming to develop disease-resistant GM pigs. The Roslin Institute's press release (5) includes a link to its scientific paper. This shows the team used cloning, which is known to cause animal suffering, to produce GM piglets, causing one pregnancy which was not maintained to term, four still births, and one piglet which was put down due to a cloning defect. Other concerns include the impact of the intensive farming of the planned GM disease-resistant pigs (6). The research was conducted jointly with the commercial company Recombinetics, Inc. The Institute is also developing GM chickens.

UK company Oxitec has already released tens of millions of GM mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Brazil, without conducting adequate environmental risk assessments (7) and is seeking partners to commercialise GM olive flies, fruit flies, tomato leaf hoppers and cabbage flies. The insects are intended to mate with wild pests and reduce the population because their female offspring are genetically programmed to die as caterpillars. However, the approach is unproven, could have knock on effects on whole ecosystems and will result in many dead GM caterpillars, and some live ones, being transported in fruit and vegetables. Oxitec has close links to multinational agribusiness Syngenta and has been lobbying for weak regulation of its products via EFSA and also overseas (8). 

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office);  07903-311580 (mobile)

Notes for Editors

(1)    The Guidance was adopted at a meeting of EFSA's GMO panel in Parma, Italy. The final text is not yet publicly available.

(2)    GeneWatch UK Press Release. 26th March 2013. On:[cid]=571802&als[itemid]=572226

(3)    GeneWatch UK response to EFSA consultation on:

(4)    GeneWatch UK open letter to DG SANCO on:

(5)    Roslin Institute PR:

(6)    GM pigs will not feed the world. Compassion in World Farming Press Release.

(7)    Briefing by GeneWatch UK's Director, published by Third World Network on:

(8)    Joint NGO report on:

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