GeneWatch UK PR: Billions of genetically modified bugs will spread in fruit and veg under new EU proposals (23rd August 2012)

GeneWatch UK today slammed the EU's new draft rules for approving genetically modified (GM) insects, fish, farm animals and pets (1). The organisation warned that billions of GM insect eggs and caterpillars would be left in vegetables and fruit if UK company Oxitec's GM moths and flies are approved by the EU under the new rules. Oxitec's GM insects have been genetically engineered so their caterpillars die inside olives or tomatoes or on the leaves of cabbages (2). The company plans to release GM pests across the EU to mate with wild pests in an attempt to reduce their numbers. Millions of GM pests must be released each week to have any effect on wild populations.

The draft guidance, published for consultation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) specifically excludes testing whether GM insects and caterpillars are safe to eat.

"No one will want to eat dead or dying GM caterpillars in their olives or tomatoes" said Dr Helen Wallace "And no one knows whether the GM pests that are still alive will end up in their garden or a local farmer's fields. What EFSA is proposing is a massive gamble with our food supplies and the environment."

GeneWatch UK has written to the EU Commission objecting to the roles of Oxitec and multinational pesticide company Syngenta in drafting the new rules and questioning EFSA's competence to draft guidance on issues that are not within its remit (3). Syngenta has funded Oxitec to develop GM agricultural pests and most of Oxitec's management and Board are ex-Syngenta staff. In its response to the consultation, GeneWatch has highlighted how the companies have distorted the draft guidance to favour approval of GM insects for commercial use.

"Companies that hope to profit from gambling with people's health and the environment are writing their own rules" said Dr Wallace, "What is the point of a food safety authority that will not do its job?"

GeneWatch's concerns about the draft guidance include:

  •         EFSA claims that health risks of GM bugs in food were addressed by a previous consultation which in fact explicitly excluded them;
  •          EFSA does not explain how GM fish or insect eggs could be prevented from ending up in the wrong places and causing harm to the environment;
  •          EFSA has tried to change its remit to include industry claimed "benefits" (reduced use of pesticides): this is not part of EFSA's role under EU legislation;
  •          Nature will adapt to GM insect releases in complex ways that have been ignored e.g. reducing one pest using Oxitec's approach could make another pest problem worse;
  •          Impacts of GM insects on human and animal diseases are poorly understood and have not been properly considered;
  •          EFSA has ignored: (i) the risks of releasing more than one type of GM insect in the same area; and (ii) Oxitec's plans to combine GM pests with GM crops as a way to try to slow the growing resistance of GM pests to GM pest-resistant crops (Bt crops);
  •          The release of GM fish could harm wild fish and the environment;
  •          Animal welfare concerns about spontaneously aborted, deformed and stillborn GM farm animals and pets continue to be ignored in favour of commercialising these GM animals.

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile).

Notes for Editors:

(1)    GeneWatch UK response to EFSA's consultation on environmental risk assessment of GM animals. August 2012. On:

(2)    For example, Oxitec's recent scientific paper "Control of the olive fruit fly using genetics-enhanced sterile insect technique" ( available on: ) reports that most of the female offspring of its GM olive flies will die as pupae. This will normally be before the adult flies emerge from the olives in which the flies lay their eggs. In the paper, Oxitec proposes that this should be treated as an "adventitious presence" under EU law, meaning that the presence in food of any dead, dying or surviving insects would be treated as accidental and would not require regulation, traceability or labelling of the olives or other foods. Most of the offspring of Oxitec's GM insects die at the late larval (i.e. caterpillar) or pupal stage, but some will survive to adulthood. Oxitec is currently working on GM tomato borers, GM diamond back moths (which eat cabbages and broccoli) and GM fruit flies.

(3)    Open letter to EU Commission available on:

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