Genetically Mutated Mosquito Experiments Target Africa Despite Failures

Oxitec’s failed GM mosquito releases worldwide: Forewarnings for Africa and the Target Malaria project

By Dr Helen Wallace

A decade ago, genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes were first released globally, in the Cayman Islands, by UK-based company Oxitec. Further releases followed in Malaysia, Panama, and Brazil.

In a public relations whitewash, Oxitec has repeatedly claimed that the experiments successfully wiped out nearly 90% of the Aedes aegypti mosquito population, which is one of the vectors to transmit tropical diseases such as dengue fever, zika and chikungunya. Their approach was to release GM mosquitoes carrying a trait designed to kill both the male and female offspring before reaching adulthood.

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However, these claims are not supported by the evidence that has become available on the releases, which were denounced as a failure by the Cayman Islands government. Most tellingly, Oxitec has quietly halted the planned releases of these GM mosquitoes in other countries.

This briefing: Oxitec’s failed GM mosquito releases worldwide: Forewarnings for Africa and the Target Malaria project, by the ACB, GeneWatch UK and Third World Network details the very serious concerns arising from the releases of GM mosquitoes around the world, which range from the risks posed to local populations and the environment to the lack of adequate risk assessment and flouting of international and local regulations. In this vlog, Dr Helen Wallace from GeneWatch UK highlights some key points.

In Africa, we need to heed these lessons, as the Gates-funded Target Malaria project has its sights on the continent, with the imminent planned release of 10 000 GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, which has raised ethical, scientific and regulatory concerns. The Gates Foundation also provides funding for Oxitec’s GM mosquito research. Ultimately, Target Malaria is preparing to use novel GM “gene drive” technology, also known as “extinction” or “exterminator” technology, allegedly to suppress the populations of mosquitoes that transmit malaria. (See below for links to other papers on the issue of GM Mosquitoes in Africa, by ACB, GeneWatch UK and TWN.)

Misleading publicity has led to significant opportunity costs and the exposure of people to unnecessary risks. We do not want a repeat of Oxitec’s mistakes in Africa, where biosafety capacity is either non-existent or sorely lacking and where there is a lack of fully informed consent for the planned experiments; poor compliance with regulatory requirements; unjustified hype about what the experiments can deliver; a lack of transparency and public consultation; and a lack of debate about alternatives.

Resisting these potentially dangerous and irreversible experiments has an added challenge: African institutions, up to the highest level of the African Union and the African Group negotiation bloc at international treaty negotiations, have been coopted to not only support, but aggressively advocate for, this technology.

We call for a halt to these releases and demand consultative processes that are open, transparent and inclusive, as well as discussions about long term sustainable alternatives to address malaria on the continent.

This article was sourced from African Centre for Biodiversity.

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