From the “What could possibly go wrong?” and the “They didn’t listen the first time!” files comes the double-whammy news that those controversial genetically-altered mosquitoes, designed to control their populations by killing off all of the biting females while leaving the non-biting males, have been released in Florida and are mating, while scientists not waiting to see what happens are already genetically engineering armyworms to kill off all of the females and stop them from destroying billions of dollars’ worth of crops worldwide. What happens when a genetically-engineered mosquito bites a genetically-engineered armyworm and a human accidentally eats it?
The mosquitoes contain a proprietary gene belonging to Oxitec, which calls it “the world’s leading insect-based biological control system to safely and sustainably control insects that transmit disease and destroy crops.” Residents of the Florida Keys have been demanding more information, independent testing and safety studies for a decade, but claim they’ve received little response from Oxitec nor support from local government or the agricultural industry. Previous tests using Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were conducted in in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Panama and Malaysia, and the company reported that local mosquito populations fell by at least 90% in those locations. However, Live Science reports that in Brazil genes from the insects cropped up in local mosquito populations because the lethal gene failed to kill off all of the females before they could mate.
Besides this, another thing that could go wrong in Florida is that tetracycline turns off the self-destruct mechanism in female larvae. However, that’s the same antibiotic used in sewage treatment plants. Oxitec claims the testing locations are far enough away from plants and other tetracycline-using areas to avoid this possibility. Should the tests be halted while they look for other things that went wrong in Florida?
“The collaboration between Bayer and Oxitec in the development of a ‘friendly’ fall armyworm explores a promising new approach to support integrated pest management, helping farmers manage destructive pests more sustainably while reducing the need for other inputs.”
According to Zenger.news, by “friendly” Bob Reiter, head of crop science research and development at Bayer, means these genetically modified male fall armyworms (Spodoptera frugiperda), also from Oxitec, will not harm the environment, other animals or humans while the kill off all of the female armyworms before the eat corn/maize, rice, sorghum, sugarcane, wheat, and 75 other crop species in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Fall armyworms are highly reproductive and spread quickly – they spread to 12 countries in Africa in 2016 and 2017, to India’s southern state of Karnataka in 2018 and to China in 2019. India, with its huge population needing huge amounts of food, is considering the genetically modified male fall armyworms – does anyone think its questionable leadership will handle this any better than the coronavirus?
Pests are definitely a problem – but pests are in the eye of the beholder. Many traditional crops are resistant to these insects, but they don’t adapt to industrialized mass farming. Similarly, development in areas where the mosquitoes formerly lived undisturbed and not spreading disease to humans results in … disease spreading to humans. Did anyone ask “What could possibly go wrong?” when these things spread?
They did. They didn’t listen the first time. Isn’t it time to ask louder now … and not give up?