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Will New York Become the Location of the First Worldwide Open-air Trials of a Genetically-engineered Diamondback Moth?

Will New York Become the Location of the First Worldwide Open-air Trials of a Genetically-engineered Diamondback Moth?

Thank you to Liana Hoodes, NOFA-NY's Policy and Advocacy consultant for this blog:

In 2014, Dr. Anthony Shelton of Cornell University was granted a USDA/APHIS permit for the world’s first open trials of a Genetically Engineered Diamondback moth (GDM)1 at the Geneva, NY Experiment Station. In 2015 the experiments were done outdoors in netted cages.

We don’t know the results of these trials, but in March 2016, following a request by USDA/APHIS, Cornell withdrew their permit. Within days a new permit application was re-submitted, and it is now working its way through USDA. After this, they will need NYS approval.  While it is unlikely that there will be any trials in 2016, open-air trials are scheduled to take place during the 2017 growing season. It is essential that we all understand the details of these trials – risks or rewards.

And it is essential that New Yorkers get a voice in the process.

During most of the past year, NOFA-NY, Food and Water Watch, Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, and GeneWatchUK – have been requesting more detailed information from both USDA and Cornell about impacts as well as process. It has been slow in coming and many questions remain.

Whatever the pros and cons of the technology, it is high time for New Yorkers to have all the information in hand before the moths are let out into the environment.

Very little health and environmental review has been completed about this moth. Oxitec2, the developer of the GDM, neglected to complete the Health and Environmental studies required by the EU or the Cartegena Protocol, leaving many health and environmental questions unanswered. When pressed, they claim that this technology is similar to others that were already assessed. That’s just not true – this is the first open trial of the female lethality trait.

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News Update on Genetically Engineered Diamondback Moth Trials

In response to our letter and emails last week, Cornell's vice president of University Relations informed us that Cornell has restricted the trials of genetically engineered (GE) diamondback moths at Cornell University’s Agricultural Research Station in Geneva to contained trials this summer.  We are pleased with this news, however we remain concerned about the lack of transparency and public information and that the focus of the trials is on evaluating efficacy, rather than evaluating safety.

We continue to request full disclosure of information to allow public scrutiny and debate as well as a more complete description of the enclosures they are planning to use to contain the moths.  In addition, we have asked for a copy of Cornell’s proposals in relation to improving the evaluation of biosafety prior to any open release, and specifically regarding the following:

  • Toxicity testing of the GE moths in relation to impacts of consumption by humans or animals;

  • Testing of the strain for undesirable properties such as pesticide resistance;

  • Laboratory studies of potential impacts of tetracycline in relation to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the insects’ guts and the inadvertent survival of GE females (for all strains proposed for release);

  • Monitoring of potential dispersal routes from proposed open sites, including wind dispersal to nearby farms (raising the risk of contamination, including of organic crops), and the potential for overwintering and encountering tetracycline contamination (e.g. in slurry) which could lead to inadvertent increases in survival of the offspring;

  • Modeling of other biosafety issues, including potential impacts of releases on other species (including the potential for increases in other types of pest in response to population suppression of the moths).


We continue to work with our colleagues at Food and Water Watch, the Center For Food Safety, the Friends of the Earth, and GeneWatch UK on this issue.  Thank you for your support.
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