Commitment to responsible science guides CALS plans for moth trials

Update: March 31, 2016
The Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is now working through the regulatory process for an open-field release trial in detailed conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). There is currently no set timeline for the release. More information will be forthcoming once the permitting process is complete.

Kathryn J. Boor, PhD
The Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Updated information about the moth trials will soon be posted on the Shelton Lab website.

In November 2014, United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) issued a permit to Dr. Anthony Shelton, an internationally recognized authority on the diamondback moth (DBM) and a tenured Cornell University faculty member of entomology, to conduct product tests of Oxitec’s genetically engineered DBM. DBM destroy broccoli, cabbage, and other cruciferous crops. Cornell University and its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), which was not involved in the development of the genetically engineered moth, is conducting this independent assessment to determine if this technology is a viable solution to a real-world problem faced by farmers of these crops in New York State and around the globe. This research effort could lead to the reduction of the use of pesticides that currently are employed with these types of crops to control these destructive invasive insects. 

Since receiving the USDA-APHIS permit, Cornell and CALS leadership have been in discussion with Dr. Shelton regarding his plans for these tests. Conversations with Dr. Shelton have focused on implementation of a careful, systematic, and thorough approach for evaluating the efficacy of Oxitec’s moth in controlling the DBM as an agricultural pest. Based on these considerations, Dr. Shelton will conduct only enclosed cage trials this summer. This approach will allow the genetically engineered DBM moth to be studied in a controlled environment under conditions that closely resemble open field conditions.

To be clear, Cornell, CALS, and Dr. Shelton are committed to robust and responsible science. The proposed trials are governed by regulations outlined in the USDA-APHIS permit and have been reviewed by Cornell University’s Office of Research. Although the APHIS permit allows for open field releases of the moths, Cornell will not proceed with such releases this summer. After careful consideration, including consultation with an internal scientific advisory committee comprised of faculty not engaged in this work but whose research programs provide in-depth expertise on key aspects of this project, controlled enclosed cage trials were determined to be the most prudent approach for testing these moths.

In anticipation of the trials, CALS is notifying key public officials of the trials and will provide public information about the research on an ongoing basis.

Kathryn J. Boor, PhD
The Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

June 11, 2015