Frankenmoth; Health Fears over Plans to Release Millions of GM Insects Designed to Destroy Pests; EXCLUSIVE

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Byline: Sean Poulter Consumer Affairs Editor

MILLIONS of genetically modified insects designed to destroy food crop pests could be released into the countryside.

The Government is considering plans by a British company for the 'open release' of a GM strain of the diamondback moth, which it has developed.

Diamondback moths attack cabbages, broccoli, cauliflowers and similar crops.

With the GM strain, a lethal gene is inserted into the male of the species so when they mate with wild females their offspring die almost immediately, causing the population to crash.

That could lead to increasing crop yields and profits for farmers.

The company involved, Oxitec, is keen to begin trials next year, but it faces opposition from groups who say the untested technology could threaten wildlife and human health. The idea that man is 'playing God' in this way is also controversial.

Dr Helen Wallace, the director of Gene-Watch UK, said the release of GM 'Frankenmoths' was potentially disastrous.

Dr Wallace, who has sat on government advisory bodies, said: 'Mass releases of GM insects into the British countryside would be impossible to recall if anything went wrong.

'Changing one part of an ecosystem can have knock-on effects on others in ways that are poorly understood. This could include an increase in different types of pest. Wildlife that feeds on insects could be harmed if there are changes to their food supply.

'GM insects that bite animals or humans could cause allergies or transmit diseases and new diseases might evolve.'

The Oxitec team of scientists, based in Oxford, insists these modified insects are better for the environment than the harsh chemical sprays currently used to kill pests.

The firm, which is supported by grants from the taxpayer, is developing a number of GM insects that would be used in Britain and around the world to protect crops and combat disease in humans.

Oxitec has contacted the Health and Safety Executive to ask what controls, if any, should be put in place around GM moth trials. …