An action by Cornell University has outraged environmentalists and grass root activists. Cornell has partnered with Oxitec, (a biotechnology company), and released genetically engineered (GE) diamondback moths at its agricultural experiment station in Geneva, New York.
Although the moths have been engineered to self kill, the release pose a possible threat to the certification of organic farmers and create environmental risks. Environmental groups such as Food and Water Watch, Center for Food Safety, and Friends of the Earth, have expressed their concern by sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s assessment process, which neglected to address the possibility of moth movement past the trial area, the impacts that diamondback moth declines will have on their natural predators and the larger ecosystem.
The purpose of the trials is to control the population of the moths by killing it on the larval stage on plants. The larvae feed on crops such as broccoli and cabbage during development.
The modification consists of using the antibiotic tetracycline to act as a chemical switch, allowing the GE larvae to develop and survive in the lab. The larvae die off in the wild; however, tetracycline is used in a variety of different settings, from agriculture to the control of human diseases, and ultimately makes its way into the environment.
Environmentalists have expressed considerable concern as there is no long term environmental impact study. Mutations tend to occur naturally and the wild population may be exposed to additional genes.