`Oxitec Still Pursuing Trial Release of GM Olive Flies in Spain - Olive Oil Times

Oxitec Still Pursuing Trial Release of GM Olive Flies in Spain

Jan. 12, 2014
Julie Butler

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Photo: Oxitec

British biotech firm Oxitec hopes a world-first field trial of its genet­i­cally-mod­i­fied olive fly will still go ahead in Catalonia this year despite recently with­draw­ing its appli­ca­tion for the exper­i­ment.

There were Spanish media reports that the trial had been shelved amid mul­ti­ple obsta­cles and safe­guards sought by the Spanish author­i­ties”, while GeneWatch UK claimed it was because Oxitec lacked answers to ques­tions on the poten­tial impacts of the insects on humans and the envi­ron­ment.“

But Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry told Olive Oil Times the with­drawal was noth­ing major” and came after Spain’s National Biosafety Commission requested that preda­tor stud­ies be held. Otherwise every­thing is very pos­i­tive,” he said.

The stud­ies, now under­way, will look at the impact of the olive fly on spi­der species and olive fly par­a­sitoids (which lay their eggs in the olive fly) and are expected to take a cou­ple of months.

We asked whether they (the com­mis­sion) would keep the file open or whether we should with­draw and resub­mit — and they pre­ferred the lat­ter. So we’ll com­plete the work in the first quar­ter of the year and then resub­mit. Hopefully we will still be okay for a trial in the autumn,” Parry said.

Catalan author­ity was await­ing infor­ma­tion from Oxitec

The com­mis­sion has yet to reply to a request for com­ment but a spokes­woman for the Catalan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Food and Environment said Oxitec had advised it was with­draw­ing its appli­ca­tion in a let­ter dated December 2.

The Catalan Biosafety Commission had asked for the sub­mis­sion of addi­tional infor­ma­tion on the (trial) pro­posal, a request that had not been attended to,” she said.

Fears about impact on health and envi­ron­men­tal impacts

Oxitec’s pro­posal was to do the trial in col­lab­o­ra­tion with — and on land belong­ing to — the Catalan agri­cul­ture, food and aqua­cul­ture research insti­tute IRTA.

Parry said last year it would involve six plots on one site — each plot being about 0.14ha and hav­ing four trees — about 8 km from the port in Tarragona, one of Catalonia’s main olive oil pro­duc­tion regions.

The olive fly is one of the key pests affect­ing olive cul­ti­va­tion and is man­aged mainly via pes­ti­cides. Oxitec believes its mod­i­fied olive fly strain — called OX3097D-Bol and devel­oped about three years ago — offers a more effec­tive, chem­i­cal-free solu­tion.

But GeneWatch UK Director Helen Wallace said the group’s con­cerns about the exper­i­ment included the impact on the food chain, and on human and ani­mal health, of large num­bers of dead GM mag­gots in olives, and the envi­ron­men­tal impacts of releas­ing large num­bers of non-native GM flies which can­not be con­tained.”

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