PETALING JAYA: The Institute for Medical Research (IMR) released about 6,000 genetically-modified (GM) Aedes aegypti mosquitoes last month in a test to detect the insects' flight range and survivability in the wild.
IMR said in statement that the the mosquitos were released in an uninhabited forest near Bentong, Pahang on Dec 21.
"The experiment was concluded on Jan 5 and fogging was done on Jan 6. IMR will monitor the area for up to 2 months," the statement said.
The field trial had raised concerns from NGOs. The Government approved the trial after several tests were carried out. - Star, 26/1/2011, 6,000 GM mozzies released in Bentong
Y.B. Dato’ Sri Liow Tiong Lai, Minister of Health
Y.B. Dato Sri Douglas Uggah Embas, Minister of Natural Resources & Environment
Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr Hj Mohd. Ismail bin Merican, Director General of Health
Dato’ Zoal Azha bin Yusof, Secretary General, Ministry of Natural Resources & Environment and Chairperson, National Biosafety Board (NBB)
Mr Letchumanan Ramatha, Director General of Biosafety
Dr Shahnaz Murad, Director, Institute of Medical Research (IMR)
Dr Ahmad Parveez Hj. Ghulam Kadir, Chairperson, Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC)
Re: Open letter from Malaysian NGOs on genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes
We, the undersigned organizations of Malaysia, representing the public health, environmental, consumer and other movements, are very concerned by the recent approval to release genetically modified (GM) male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes OX513A(My1), for the purpose of a field experiment. We are even more worried that the field releases may have already happened, without adequate notification or information provision to the public. We urge the government to be transparent on the issue and to immediately disclose the details and specific sites of the releases.
1. Risky approach to dengue control
While dengue is a very serious problem in Malaysia and needs to be urgently addressed, going down the GM path takes us into risky territory. Genetic engineering often results in unintended effects. We do not know enough about the GM mosquitoes and how their interactions with non-GM mosquitoes in the wild, other species in the ecosystem, the dengue virus and human populations, will be affected.
2. Field trials a first step to large-scale release
Although the field releases are characterized as small-scale and limited, we are extremely concerned that they are but one step in a technological approach to dengue control that is based on dependency and ‘locking-in’. At the commercial release stage, the continuous release of millions of GM mosquitoes at several places in Malaysia would be needed in order to successfully suppress mosquito populations. The risks would be greatly amplified at such large numbers.
3. In the public or private interest?
We understand that Oxitec Limited, a UK-based company, holds the patents on the technology used in these GM mosquitoes. While Oxitec will presumably collect rewards for their invention, will they bear the liability should anything go wrong?
4. Our demands
a. As citizens of Malaysia, we demand a wider and broader public debate on the issue than there has been to date. This field experiment will have tremendous implications for Malaysia’s health and environment. There must be a national discussion as to whether GM mosquitoes are indeed the right approach to address dengue. The general public are integral to effective dengue control and there must be consensus on this issue.
1. Centre for Environment, Technology & Development, Malaysia (CETDEM)
2. Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP)
3. Institute for Development of Alternative Living (IDEAL)
4. Malaysia Youth and Students Democratic Movement (DEMA)
5. Parti Sosialis Malaysia - Cameron Highlands Branch
6. Penang Suya Meiyarivagam
7. Persatuan Kakitangan Akademik Universiti Malaya (PKAUM)
8. Persatuan Karst Malaysia
9. Persatuan Kebajikan Nelayan-Nelayan Pantai Pulau Pinang (Penang Inshore Fishermens' Welfare Association)
10. Persatuan Pengguna-Pengguna Pahang (PAC)
11. Persatuan Pengusaha Pertanian Kecil Felda Chini, Pekan, Pahang (Chini Smallholders Network)
12. Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN-AP)
13. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)
14. Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA)
15. Secretariat Ulama Assembly of Asia (SHURA)
17. Southeast Asian Council for Food Security & Fair Trade (SEACON)
18. Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility
19. Sustainable Development Network (SUSDEN)
20. TERAS Pengupayaan Melayu
21. Third World Network (TWN)
22. Treat Every Environment Special S/B (TrEES)
23. Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM)
The aim of this GM technology is for the GM male mosquitoes to mate with wild female mosquitoes. They are genetically modified so that most of their offspring die before becoming adults. The hope is that this will reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the dengue virus, and hence reduce incidences of dengue fever.
2. There is very little knowledge and experience with these GM mosquitoes and some scientists are worried about their impacts on health and the environment. A few of these scientists made submissions raising concerns, to the NBB and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The lack of agreement, even among scientists, as to the safety of this technology means that we should be more cautious about the releases.
3. The proposed field experiments are very likely to be repeated a number of times, so large numbers of the GM mosquitoes will be released in total. The release at both uninhabited and inhabited sites would involve either approximately 2,000-3,000 GM mosquitoes a day for two consecutive days, or a single release of approximately 4,000-6,000 GM mosquitoes. Assuming that these numbers apply to the two sites and two phases at each site (inhabited and uninhabited), this means that a total of 16,000-24,000 GM mosquitoes could be released into the environment of Malaysia. This figure would be much higher if the experiments are repeated.
4. There is no absolute guarantee that only male GM mosquitoes will be released. IMR will have to mechanically and manually sort out the male pupae from the female pupae before release. At the large numbers needed for the experiment(s), there could be mechanical or human error. Since it is the female mosquitoes that bite humans and may transmit disease, this is a concern.
5. Some of the GM larvae that are ‘programmed to die’, will survive. The offspring produced when the GM male mosquitoes mate with wild females are supposed to die. However, a small percentage of the larvae will survive (3-4 percent survived in the lab). Some of the survivors would be females. Survival of the GM larvae also means that the introduced foreign genes may not be completely removed from the environment, with unknown consequences.
6. If the GM mosquitoes become part of Malaysia’s dengue control strategy, millions of GM mosquitoes would have to be released on a continuous basis. As mosquitoes reproduce continually, releases will have to be made frequently, probably on a weekly basis, to suppress the mosquito population. It has been suggested that 100 million to a billion GM mosquitoes should be stockpiled for a given project.
7. The GM technology used in the mosquitoes is owned by a foreign company, UK-based Oxitec Limited. Oxitec holds global patents on this technology. It stands to gain from the continued release of the GM mosquitoes. It has recently been facing financial losses, and hence may be under pressure to get its products approved.
8. If the GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are reduced in number in the long-term, there may be an increase in another mosquito species, Aedes albopictus, which also transmits dengue as well as chikungunya in Malaysia. This is the way nature works – when one species is reduced, another will take its place.
9. This will be the second release of these GM mosquitoes in the world – why should Malaysia’s people and environment be guinea pigs? There have been field trials carried out in the Cayman Islands in 2009 and 2010 of this same GM mosquito. However, the environment (both ecological and human) there is completely different from Malaysia’s. We cannot extrapolate from those releases to the Malaysian situation. There has yet to be a full, publicly-available evaluation of the risk assessment and monitoring reports from the Cayman Islands’ experiments.
10. The inhabitants of the release sites have a right to say ‘No’ to these experiments. One of the terms and conditions of the approval is that it is mandatory that IMR obtains the prior consensus and approval from the inhabitants in the release site through a public forum.