PETALING JAYA: Concerned citizens who are against the proposed release of genetically modified (GM) male mosquitoes in certain parts of the country have started an online petition campaign to get their message across the nation.
The online petition, titled “No to the release of GM mosquitoes in Bentong and Alor Gajah”, was initiated by Cheah Hooi Giam from Penang and has so far garnered 290 signatories.
Calling on the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to reconsider its planned release, Cheah said that no independent scientific data or evidence had been produced to prove that GM mosquitoes would effectively combat the dengue menace.
“Besides, no developed country had allowed the release of GM mosquitoes so far. What is the rationale of Malaysia, with limited scientific resources, rushing to be among the first to use this untested and unknown biological control?
“The Malaysian government must not favour commercial interests at the expense of the welfare, health and safety of the public and the environment,” said Cheah.
She added that within the context of Malaysia’s Biosafety Act (which governs the release of GM mosquitoes), the issues of redress and liability were clearly absent. This has raised public concerns over who would be responsible if anything detrimental to humans and the environment happened.
Based on a random check, most signatories echoed Cheah’s concerns that no compelling evidence had been provided to the public on the plan’s effectiveness and its long-term effects to the environment.
“Show us more convincing studies that tell us there is no impact on the environment,”says YP Wong of Cyberjaya.
Fearing that the mosquitoes may mutate, Grace Liew of Kuala Lumpur asked whether the government can guarantee that the GM mosquitoes or their larvae would not mutate into a new strain.
“Besides, has the government obtained the permission of the locals in Bentong and Alor Gajah before releasing the mosquitoes?” she asked.
Control rather than eradicate
Another signatory, Mok Shao Feng of Bentong proposed that the government study the Taiwan method of combating the Aedes menace – by controlling the mosquitoes rather than trying to eradicate them.
“We should not release them (GM mosquitoes) directly into wild, but rather release them into large controlled area for monitoring. We should perform this with extreme caution,”says Mok, who claimed to be a biotechnology student.
Another signatory, Cheay Lay Ping, sarcastically urged the authorities to release the mosquitoes at the minister’s residence to allay public fears.
“Please release the GM mosquitoes at the houses of Najib Tun Razak (Prime Minister) and all the other ministers…. prove to us that it is safe; then only can you convince us that it would not harm us,”says Cheah.
On a more comical note, Khoo Soo Hay of Penang urged the ministry to provide evidence that the GM male mosquitoes will actually mate with the “right” gender upon release.
“Ask the patent owner to prove that the GM male mosquitoes will pick the ‘right’ gender when dusk falls,” said Khoo.
Malaysia’s National Biosafety Board (NBB) plans to release between 3,000 and 4,000 of the GM male mosquitoes in Bentong, Pahang and Alor Gajah, Malacca soon in a trial to reduce the Aedes population.
The progeny of the GM male mosquitoes is expected to die before they can hatch, thus preventing the spread of the lethal dengue virus. However, the move by NBB has come under criticism by several concerned groups such as the Third World Network