USDA to integrate genetically engineered insects into agency plant pest control programs

May 12, 2009

A Record of Decision has been published on the US Federal Register on the use of genetically engineered Fruit Fly and Pink Bollworm in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Pest Control Programs. The decision reads “After a thorough evaluation of the potential impacts of the alternatives considered in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, APHIS has decided to integrate the use of genetically engineered insects into the sterile insect technique used in agency plant pest control programs.”

APHIS has determined that the use of genetic technologies of the type being developed by Oxitec is not merely acceptable but is environmentally preferable to all available alternatives. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) examined the potential environmental consequences of the incorporation of genetically engineered fruit fly or pink bollworm into existing area-wide Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) pest control programs. This was compared with alternatives of either continuing as at present (‘no action’) or expanding the existing program without incorporating genetically engineered strains (‘expansion of existing programs’). The specific genetic technologies considered correspond to the systems Oxitec is developing. The FEIS was prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and included extensive consultation comprising three public comment periods and five public meetings.

“The environmentally preferable alternative for the use of sterile insect technique in plant pest control programs is the alternative that minimizes potential impacts to human health, non-target species, and environmental quality. Among the alternatives considered in this EIS, the preferred alternative, which involves integration of genetically engineered insects into programs, is also the environmentally preferable alternative……The potential environmental impacts from methods under alternatives other than the preferred alternative are reduced under the preferred alternative to the extent that genetically engineered insects are incorporated. For example, the use of genetically engineered insects has the potential to decrease the need for insecticide applications, to increase production of males that are more competitive in mating than radiation-sterilized males, and to eliminate the need to use, operate, and maintain strong gamma radiation sources.…integration of genetically engineered insects into programs, provides program managers with several methods for pest risk reduction in an environmentally safe and efficient manner.”