Genetically Modified Insects Contents

Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

Chapter 3: Potential applications of GM insect technologies and prospects for commercialisation

1.We are persuaded of the potential of GM insects as part of a complementary approach to pest and vector control management. The sheer disease burden means that all avenues should be explored, and the positive outcome from Oxitec’s dengue fever field trials should be capitalised on. This potential must be explored; it would be a mistake not to pursue GM insect technologies for a range of potential applications. (Paragraph 43)

2.We conclude that the excellence of the science base, investment in infrastructure and the skills pipeline must at least be preserved, and preferably enhanced, in order to maintain the UK’s position as a world-leader in GM insect technology development. In this regard, we welcome the Chancellor’s announcement in the recent Spending Review that the resource budget for science will be protected in real terms for this Parliament. (Paragraph 70)

3.We also welcome the announcement, as part of the Spending Review, of the new £1 billion Ross Fund which will be used to support the global fight against malaria and other infectious diseases. The Ross Fund will provide an opportunity for further research and development into products for fighting infectious diseases. This will benefit low to middle income countries which bear the greatest burden of infectious diseases. (Paragraph 71)

4.On account of the potential that GM insects offer, both economically and in terms of public health, we conclude that there is a strong case for Innovate UK to invest further in this area to promote commercialisation of UK-based GM insect research. We therefore recommend that Innovate UK, in partnership with the Research Councils, considers providing targeted funding in order to develop the commercial deployment of GM insect technologies. (Paragraph 72)

Chapter 4: Regulation of GM insect technologies

5.We are concerned that the application of GM insect technologies in the countries whose need is greatest may be affected by a lack of international guidance and leadership on the governance and regulation of these technologies. We recommend that the Government, in light of its strong commitment to international development, works through international organisations to help to address challenges of international guidance and leadership. (Paragraph 86)

6.GM insects have the potential to help in the control of both insect-borne diseases and agricultural pests, bringing both public health and economic benefits. The UK is a world leader in the development of GM insect technologies and the public good and the commercial opportunities are tangible. However the current EU regulatory regime for GMOs risks this opportunity being squandered. The regime is failing as applied to GM crops and the full potential of GM insects will not be realised if it continues to fail to function adequately. (Paragraph 110)

7.We accept that there is some practical merit in the Government’s decision to work to ensure that the existing regulatory regime for GMOs at least functions as written. We ask the Government to set out clearly how it intends to do so and to publish annual updates on progress made in improving the operation of the system, starting in the summer of 2016. However, we do not accept that this is sufficient and we advocate a more radical review of the regulatory framework later in this Chapter. (Paragraph 111)

8.We urge the Government to monitor the development of new genetic technologies, including GM insects, in order to ensure that the regulatory regime is fit-for-purpose. We recognise that a move to a trait-based system may not currently be appropriate. We see the risk that a move to a trait-based system may be counter-productive in the short term. We acknowledge, however, that trait-based regulation may be a valid long-term aim in order to develop a more scientifically robust, overarching regime once current regulatory barriers within 2001/18/EC have been addressed. (Paragraph 126)

9.The ecological impact of GMOs designed to persist in the environment presents a new regulatory challenge. In light of the advances in gene-drive research, we conclude that underpinning research is required in order to allow effective monitoring and tracking of this new generation of genetic modifications. The regulatory framework should take persistence into account and stipulate appropriate monitoring requirements. (Paragraph 129)

10.We consider the argument for including the benefits of a technology within the regulatory process to be entirely valid. Furthermore, we do not agree with the stance of the Government and the European Commission that there would be little to gain in modifying the current framework to include consideration of benefits. We recommend that consideration of benefits and dis-benefits be incorporated into the regulatory regime once the scientific risk assessment has taken place, during the risk management stage. (Paragraph 140)

11.Furthermore it is inappropriate that new GMO technologies are considered in relation to an unrealistic, risk-free alternative. We recommend that the regulatory process should acknowledge control methods currently in use, such as insecticides, which a new technology may replace. (Paragraph 141)

12.The fact that the current EU regulatory regime remains untested for GM insect technologies is a major barrier to progress. Only when a field trial application has been approved will we be able to move forward. We therefore conclude that action must be taken to instigate a field trial which should also be used to drive public engagement. (Paragraph 145)

13.We therefore recommend that the Government actively pursues and invests in a GM insect field trial to test fully the science of GM insects, regulatory processes and policies. This trial could be considered as a GM insect counterpart to the Farm Scale Evaluations of new GM crop technologies undertaken from 1999 to 2006. Such a trial should be dual-approach in nature and investigate both an agricultural pest and a species of mosquito. (Paragraph 146)

14.In order to undertake this trial, Government departments, including DEFRA, BIS and DFID, should work together to develop a proposal to be put out for tender to the UK science community. Funding should be drawn from these Government departments as well as Innovate UK. (Paragraph 147)

15.Alternative regulatory approaches should be considered in the light of this trial, including those highlighted in this report, such as: consideration of benefits, evaluation against real-world alternatives and trait-based regulatory triggers. (Paragraph 148)

16.Alongside this trial, with the aim of ensuring that regulation remains relevant and up to date, we recommend that the Government monitors the suitability of the regulatory environment for emerging technologies, such as GM insects, to ensure that the potential benefits they could bring are not stifled at inception due to anachronistic regulation. This includes the development of new mechanisms to allow for effective post-release monitoring and tracking of new genetic material promoted via gene drives. We recommend that the Government issues an annual statement which provides their assessment of the suitability of the regulatory environment for emerging technologies. (Paragraph 149)

Chapter 5: Concerns, perceptions and public engagement

17.We envisage that appropriate public engagement strategies will have a critical role to play in the development and progression of GM insect technologies. Engagement with the public, both in the UK and overseas, particularly in countries where insect-borne disease is rife, will be required. It is vital that the evolution of an inflamed debate like that which has enveloped GM crop technologies in the UK and across the EU is avoided. (Paragraph 170)

18.The nature of an engagement initiative and its framing is vitally important. Setting GM insect technologies in the context of the issues and problems they are designed to address is crucial. We envisage that a public dialogue approach would be most appropriate. (Paragraph 171)

19.While we recognise the value in early-stage intervention, we are concerned that undertaking a large scale public dialogue in the UK when an application for a GM insect trial is not in train—either at a national or EU level—may prevent the full impact of such an exercise being achieved. (Paragraph 172)

20.We therefore recommend that a concomitant public dialogue exercise be a component of the UK-based GM insect trial we advocate in Chapter 4. This exercise should be framed around the context of the technologies and separate the public health uses of GM insects from agricultural applications. It should also allow for public input into the process of the trial and regulatory exploration. The Government should draw on the expertise of a suitably qualified organisation in order to develop this initiative. (Paragraph 173)

21.Furthermore, as a long-term aim, we recommend that the Government, via a suitably qualified organisation, monitors the development of GM insect technologies and acts to initiate a broad programme of public dialogue when these technologies are deemed to be nearer to commercialisation. (Paragraph 174)

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