Evil commercial laboratories have unleashed the moral equivalent of Mothra* on unsuspecting practitioners of the organic cult in upstate New York state. Or so some anti-biotech alarmists would have the public believe. What has actually happened is that the company Oxitec has engineered male Diamonback moths so that when they mate with wild female Diamondback moths they pass a long an autocidal gene that kills off larva before they can develop. Diamondback moths are not native to the United States and are a big pest for growers of brassica plants including canola, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. As Oxitec points out:
The approach is toxin-free and does not target beneficial predators or insects.
The male moths only mate with their own species so the genes don't spread. And the insects die out so the released insects and their genes do not persist in the environment.
Reducing reliance on insecticides will help beneficial insects, like bees, to thrive.
In fact, Oxitec has shown considerable success with a pilot program in which engineered autocidal mosquitoes in Panama reduced the local population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue and chikungunya viruses, by more than 90 percent.
The organic cultists do not even claim that the moths will significantly harm the environment or people. So why then do they oppose the field testing of this beneficial technology? Because it violates a taboo.
The letter from the self-appointed high priests, ah, organic advocates at Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, and Gene Watch UK asserts:
The mechanism for these GE moths to control population levels is for offspring to die in the larval stage. The larval moths will die on plants, including crops such as broccoli and cabbage. In its assessment, the USDA failed to recognize that if farms near the field trial sites happen to be certified organic or non-GE, their certification could be lost if these larval stage GE moths were present because genetic engineering, even for pest control, is prohibited. The loss of certification is a major economic hardship for these operations, threatening future earnings from their crops and wiping out a major investment of time and money needed to get the certification. If GE contamination occurs, it has the potential to not only permanently damage long-standing partnerships with organic buyers but also to destroy an organic farmer's livelihood and standing in the community.
That's right—tiny bits of dead larva parts might get stuck on the leaves of an organic cabbage thus making it ritually unclean. Never mind that this technology could be a big boon for their neighboring conventional farmers who do not subcribe to the obscurantist dogmas of the organic creed.
For my part, I urge Oxitec to hurry up and develop autocidal Tiger mosquitoes and release them at my home as quickly as possible.
*Apologies to Mothra who really is a benign protector of the Earth.