Britain May Use Genetically Modified Insects to Fight Pests

Genetically modified insects could be Britain’s answer to pest issues, if the recommendation from the House of Lords moves forward. Their recommendation is to carry out a field test, in which genetically modified insects would be studied to determine whether or not they can combat against disease and pest issues.

Some of these insects would include the diamondback moth, spotted wing drosophila, and an Asian fruit fly. With only one GM technology ready to approach commercialization, the UK is ready to see how it works in use.

This particular method would use a “gene drive” in order to spread a certain characteristic. This could include preventing the spread of malaria or something similar, for example.

Lord Selborne, who chairs the Lords committee, said, “GM insect technologies have the potential not only to save countless lives worldwide but also to generate significant economic benefits for the UK, where we are an acknowledged world leader. But the development of GM insect technologies has come to a screeching halt because the EU regulatory system is woefully inadequate.”

The committee also added that the U.K. government “has a moral duty to test the potential of this technology, for the long-term benefit of those countries where diseases like dengue and malaria are indiscriminate killers. So as a first step towards that goal, we urge the government to initiate field trials to put not only the science but, crucially, the regulations to the test.”

This test will focus primarily on using insects against pest problems, rather than disease for now.

Camilla Beech, Oxitec head of regulation, welcomed the Lords report as “a potent symbol of the U.K.’s leadership in this field. If we have a solution that makes sense for the evaluation proposed by the government, we would like to participate in UK trials.”

Others are on the other side of the equation, calling the Lords out for being ahead of the times. Helen Wallace, for example, is the director of the pressure group GeneWatch U.K.

“The Lords’ conclusions are simply nonsense as no effective GM insect technologies yet exist,” she said. “Only one company, Oxitec, has GM insects it claims are ready for the market, and the female offspring of its GM agricultural pests die as larvae in the crop. This poses serious problems for farmers because the GM larvae will damage and contaminate the crop, making it unfit for human consumption.”

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