The UK-based company Oxitec, known for releasing millions of genetically modified (GM) mosquitos into the Cayman Islands several years ago, has received approval from Brazil’s GMO regulatory body (CTNBio) to release millions of GM Mediterranean fruit flies into fruit orchards throughout Brazil.
This could lead to genetically modified maggots spreading to other parts of the world via Brazilian fruit exports.
According to GeneWatch UK, this experiment, which has not yet taken place, is meant to address the overpopulation of Mediterranean fruit flies that are destroying crops like grapes and melons, which are grown in Brazil and then shipped all around the world, including to the United States and Europe.
Oxitec representatives state that their GM fruit flies will reduce the overall fruit fly population in Brazil by mating with native fruit flies and producing offspring that are incapable of surviving into adulthood. As a result, most will die as maggots on the fruit rather than growing into adult fruit flies, thus curbing the overall fruit fly population.
For the plan to work, the GM fruit flies must outnumber the native population by at least 10 to 1, according to Oxitec, thus requiring the company to release millions of the genetically modified insects into the wild.
However, in doing this, the leftover maggots on the fruit will then end up being exported, which will violate some countries’ restrictions on properly labeling GM crops, meaning Brazil could be violating import laws.
“In Europe, food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is legally required to be safety tested and labelled[;] however no specific procedures have been adopted to identify GM maggots in fruit imports,” said GeneWatch UK. “Live GM flies could also be transported in the fruit as the genetic killing mechanism affects only female flies.”
Oxitec attempted a similar experiment last year in Spain, when the company was going to release olive fruit flies in orchards there. However, the plans were tabled when Spanish regulators raised safety concerns over the environmental and health impacts of the experiment.