Lee Boon Chye: questions demand answers from Minister of Health and Dr Lee Yean Wang

Dr Lee Boon Chye, Member of Parliament, Gopeng and health spokesman for Parti Keadilan Rakyat expressed regret on the statement on 30th Dec 2010 by Dr Lee Yean Wang, Assistant
Secretary for Kedah MCA regarding Genetically Modified (GM) mosquito.

Dr Lee Boon Chye urged Dr Lee Yean Wang to be professional and open-minded instead of betraying Rakyat’s interest for the sake of political gain.

This follows earlier statement by Dr Lee Boon Chye in urging the Ministry of Health to halt the release of GM Aedes aegypti mosquito at Bentong and Alor Gajah. GM Mosquito was developed by UK biotech firm Oxitec with the aim to reduce the population of dengue carrying wild Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

The following questions demand answers from Minister of Health and Dr Lee Yean Wang:

1. Isn’t it true that about 2-4% of these GM mosquitoes are female mosquitoes (instead of male mosquitoes) which are capable of mating and producing offspring carrying the
mutated gene?

2. Isn’t it true that some 2-4% of the second generation genetically modified offspring which are suppose to died at larval stage actually survive till adulthood and contribute
to altered genetic pool?

3. Isn’t it true that the so call 3% failure rate in the technique as admitted by Dr Lee Yean Wang will ultimately altered the genetic pool of the Aedes aegypti mosquito?

4. Isn’t it true that the outcome of altered genetic pool and accelerated mutation is unpredictable? Isn’t it true that this can potentially produce mutant mosquitoes which may be more aggressive, may fly longer distance and may become vector to other viruses such as AIDS virus (HIV) etc ?

5. Is Oxitec, as the patent holder of the technology, willing and capable of indemnifying Malaysians for potential health and ecological disaster?

6. The experiment at Cayman Island used 2 million GM mosquitoes to achieve result. In the event if the experiment is successful, do we have to release up to 1 billion
(1,000,000,000) GM mosquitoes in West Malaysia alone, considering that West Malaysia is 660 times the size of Cayman island ?

7. Since the life-span of the GM Mosquito is short, and the population of the native Aedes aegypti mosquito to will re-grow once the GM mosquitoes died, how often do we have
to release billions of GM mosquitoes repeatedly to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito population? How much do we have to pay Oxitec repeatedly for the service?

8. With regards to Research and Development, we should always give 100% support for original idea from Malaysia which has great economic benefit with minimal risk. Why should we risk our environment for a copycat experiment (the 1st experiment was in Cayman Island), using technology from a foreign company, which has potential ecological risk and at the end of the day benefits a foreign company Oxitec?

Lastly, according to Dr Lee Yean Wang, the government has spent some RM 40 million (10% of USD 133 million) for the experiment. It is indeed scandalous for the government to have
spent such amount of money for the copycat experiment which may cause potential ecological disaster, with no certainty of outcome either its effectiveness for preventing dengue infection
or its economic benefit for Malaysians. The money is better spent on research which is indigenous, with original innovations from Malaysian scientists.

In view of the escalating cases of dengue infection, the Minister should instead review the current practice of dengue control, ie, clearing Aedes mosquito breeding sites and frequent
fogging of areas of dengue infection. If the existing measures failed, the Rakyat has the right to know why it failed. GM Mosquito cannot be a replacement for effective dengue
control measures. This new unproven experimental technique cannot be used to cover-up incompetency in the conventional control measures.

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