The debate that’s still going on with genetic modification with its benefits or possible consequences may not be reaching any conclusion yet in the very near future. The different arguments still remain strong between the two sides. And it seems that this will continue.
But for what may be the complaint for most of those against genetic modification is the lack of proper regulation and safety testing. If the GM proponents are ever looking for some bit of understanding and convince more people to join the bandwagon, it might just be as simple as providing the information that the people need concerning genetic modification and the technology behind it. But unfortunately, information regarding genetic modification seems to be quite limited. And if there is such information available, they may be considered as highly restricted. One such example can be found in the availability of information regarding the release of GM insects into the wild in some countries.
If some people may not already be aware of it, there are now countries that have become the first ones to ever release genetically modified insects into the wild. These so-called “designer insects” are aimed to help suppress insect populations known to spread certain human diseases. They are also developed in order to reduce agricultural pests that destroy valuable crops. The GM insects are engineered to be fluorescently marked, made sterile to a certain degree or even both. These insects have been released in the forests of Malaysia, in the Cayman Islands and also in the US in order to provide species –specific and chemical-free ways to reduce insect population in the wild.
Because of this, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology have conducted a study on the regulatory history behind the development of the genetically modified insects and their release in the wild. The researchers were more particularly focused on trying to obtain what available pre-release information about the GM insects that they could gather. The study also took the US regulatory experience, since it is being promoted as global regulatory model for the GM insects.
During the course of their investigation, the researchers found certain deficits in certain guidelines used for basing the release of GM insects in the environment. They also cited certain difficulties with regards to public access to data related to GM insects. According to Guy Reeves of the Max Planck institute of Evolutionary Biology, “We noted that public access to scientific information is highly restricted throughout the world, particularly information made available before releases start.”
The Cayman Islands is considered to be the site where the first free release of genetically modified mosquitoes was made in 2009. But there were certain doubts as to whether the country itself had the ability to provide certain safeguards as it had no known enacted legislation that specifically addresses the release or transportation of genetically modified organisms.
One of the obvious questions made by those people living in the release sites of the GM mosquitoes (Cayman Islands, Malaysia, and Brazil) is whether humans can be potentially bitten by the said transgenic mosquitoes. In the public information that was made available in the Cayman Islands and the Malaysian trials, this question was relatively ignored or just provide some implied statements that the said mosquitoes cannot bite. But as the team of researchers have detailed, these transgenic mosquitoes, all male and developed as “partially sterile males”, may potentially reproduce female transgenic mosquitoes that may bite humans. Most disconcerting of the fact is that the authors of the said study are aware that there are no publicly available documents that scientifically consider the human health impacts of being bitten by transgenic female mosquitoes.
The general lack of accurate information regarding the pre-release of the genetically modified insects is considered by the scientists to be problematic. In such cases community engagement is considered by expert scientists to be essential when having such field trials. Release descriptions should be widely circulated before the actual releases start. “It is rather uncontroversial to state that in the absence of meaningful and accurate descriptions being made widely available, community engagement cannot credibly be said to have occurred,” says Reeves.
The researchers still believe that the development of new control techniques is important. In such cases, field trials may be essential as part of the evaluation process. But there is a need for better transparency and public information before any such trials are to be conducted. Lack thereof can easily cause public mistrust that may affect the fair evaluation of such experimental testings. When this happens, public opinion regarding genetic modification in general would likely suffer from some negative backlash, giving the technology a bad name before it can even be given a fair evaluation.
Source: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (2012, February 1). Available information on the free release of genetically modified insects into the wild is highly restricted. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 8, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120201104637.htm