We’re finally starting to see the ugly consequences of decades of unrestrained pesticide use. Direct and indirect exposure to pesticides has been linked to asthma, autism and learning disabilities, birth defects and reproductive dysfunction, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and several types of cancer. Yet we keep dumping them all over the place.
Why? Because to keep us swimming in meat and wheat, it’s necessary to grow a lot of food. Crop-eating pests are a liability, so farmers are willing to do just about anything to keep them at bay. Despite what the chemical companies tell us, the pesticides aren’t working, so now some say we should genetically modify the bugs themselves.
Scientists in Britain are seeking approval to unleash thousands of genetically-modified olive flies in Spain as part of a plan to develop an alternative to chemical pesticides. The olive fly (seen above) poses a huge threat to the nation’s olive crops, and the genetic experiment promises–at least in theory–to eliminate the pests without affecting other species.
In the experiment, pioneered by Oxford-based biotech firm Oxitec, genetically-modified olive fly males would be released into the environment, free to mate with wild olive females. The resulting offspring would be infertile, however, so eventually, all of the flies would die-off, leaving the olives free to flourish without the use of a toxic pesticide that has been banned in some countries.
I know what you’re thinking: “But what happens to all those tweaked-out male flies?! What if they get a little kinky and start spreading their seed to other types of flies?”
“Olive flies only mate with olive flies, only the targeted species would be affected,” explains Medical Daily. “Chemical pesticides, in contrast, linger and can affect a broad array of organisms.”
The experiment has been a success when trialed in greenhouse laboratories. Results suggest that the entire olive fly population could be wiped out in about two months, but things rarely go as well in nature as they do in the controlled setting of a lab.
Some fear that littering the Spanish countryside with the carcasses of GM olive flies could yield unforeseen negative consequences. If they’re ingested by other animals or decompose in the water supply, for instance, they might still release unknown toxins into the environment.
“Oxitec’s experiments should not go ahead until rules for safety testing and plans for labeling and segregation of contaminated fruits have been thoroughly debated and assessed,” Dr. Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, told the Daily Mail. “If these issues are ignored, growers could suffer serious impacts on the market for their crops.”
Furthermore, “Friends of the Earth, an environmental policy group, claims that some of the genetically modified insects could continue to breed. While Oxitec only plans to release males, up to 0.5 percent of the released insects are female, as the released mosquitoes are handpicked by scientists, prone to human error,” reports Medical Daily.
Image via alvesgaspar