Wednesday June 20, 2018

Company combating Zika virus attracts praise

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Mexico city: Oxitec, British biotechnology company which breeds genetically modified(GM) insects to combat the spread of diseases such as dengue and the Zika virus, is in attention from all across the world.

Oxitec releases GM male mosquitoes with a self-limiting gene, essentially rendering them sterile and causing any offspring to die before they reach adulthood, Xinhua reported.

In trials around the world, including the Brazilian city of Piracicaba, Oxitec claims to have wiped out over 90 percent of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Given that this pesky critter is the main carrier and transmitter of Zika, chikungunya and dengue, this has led to a spike in interest in Oxitec’s methods.

Hadyn Parry, CEO of Oxitec, said “Our mosquitoes do not impact the disease; we just reduce the number of mosquitoes. You get Zika, dengue or chikungunya by being bitten by a mosquito carrying that disease. No mosquito means no disease, less mosquitoes means less disease,” he said.

Both the US and Brazil confirmed that the Zika virus had been propagated by sexual transmission and blood transfusion.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Zika virus only remains in the bloodstream for a few weeks, meaning that eradicating mosquito populations would remove the threat of other types of transmission.

Despite this seemingly positive impact, the rollout of Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes in Latin America to date has been limited. The city of Piracicaba, in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, which saw a trial release of Oxitec’s mosquitoes in 2015, is expanding the project to cover about 60,000 people.

According to statistics provided by Oxitec, the city saw 133 cases of dengue in 2014 and the beginning of 2015. This was cut down to just one for the rest of 2015 after the Oxitec trial began.

However, the release of further Oxitec GM mosquitoes across the country faces a major obstacle. While Brazil’s regulator for GM organisms has stated Oxitec’s product poses no risk, final approval is needed by the Health Ministry before commercialisation can begin.

“But to market and sell our product, we need an authorisation from the Ministry of Health. We think we are very close to getting that authorisation,” said Parry.

That decision would not just impact Oxitec’s operations in Brazil but would determine if and when its GM mosquitoes could be released in other countries.

“Once Brazil approves us, I do not think we will see a similar time frame in other Latin American countries,” the executive said.

“This mosquito is the same species all around the world, our product is exactly the same, and a lot of Latin American cities are very similar.”

However, should a country decide that certain differentiating factors warrant extra processes, Oxitec said it will be happy to carry out extra studies.

Parry said many countries and private companies are collaborating to develop a vaccine but such a solution may be slow.

A final hurdle for Oxitec has been the controversies that have grown around their methods. A cursory search on the internet turns up a number of articles, questioning or outright blaming Oxitec and its GM mosquitoes.

While thorough questioning of scientific practices is welcome, especially for as important a topic as GM organisms, Parry said some of the circulating accusations are false and can affect lives.

“The WHO and Brazilian regulators have examined our technology and found no significant risk,” he said. “However, if anyone has real evidence, or even a hypothesis to test out, they should come forward as that will be good for the debate.”(IANS)

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Intel Becomes Savior Of Exploited Workers

In recent years modern slavery has increasingly come under the global spotlight

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Intel CEO Brian Krzanich delivers a keynote speech at CES International, Jan. 8, 2018, in Las Vegas.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich delivers a keynote speech at CES International, Jan. 8, 2018, in Las Vegas. VOA

Intel topped a list issued on Monday ranking how well technology companies combat the risk of forced labor in their supply chains, overtaking HP and Apple.

Most of the top 40 global technology companies assessed in the study by KnowTheChain, an online resource for business, had made progress since the last report was published in 2016. But the study found there was still room for improvement.

“The sector needs to advance their efforts further down the supply chain in order to truly protect vulnerable workers,” said Kilian Moote, project director of KnowTheChain, in a statement.

Intel, HP and Apple scored the highest on the list, which looked at factors including purchasing practices, monitoring and auditing processes. China-based BOE Technology Group and Taiwan’s Largan Precision came bottom.

Workers who make the components used by technology companies are often migrants vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, the report said.

About 25 million people globally were estimated to be trapped in forced labor in 2016, according to the International Labor Organization and rights group Walk Free Foundation.

Laborers in technology companies’ supply chains are sometimes charged high recruitment fees to get jobs, trapped in debt servitude, or deprived of their passports or other documents, the report said.

It highlighted a failure to give workers a voice through grievance mechanisms and tackle exploitative recruiting practices as the main areas of concern across the sector.

In recent years modern slavery has increasingly come under the global spotlight, putting ever greater regulatory and consumer pressure on firms to ensure their supply chains are free of forced labor, child labor and other forms of slavery.

From cosmetics and clothes to shrimp and smartphones, supply chains are often complex with multiple layers across various countries — whether in sourcing the raw materials or creating the final product — making it hard to identify exploitation.

Overall, large technology companies fared better than smaller ones, suggesting a strong link between size and capacity to take action, the report said. Amazon, which ranked 20th, was a notable exception, it said.

“Top-ranking brands … are listening to workers in their supply chains and weeding out unscrupulous recruitment processes,” Phil Bloomer, head of the Business & Human Rights Resource Center, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

intel technology
intel technology, pixabay

A spokesman for Amazon said the report drew from old and incomplete information and failed to take into account recently launched anti-slavery commitments and initiatives.

HP said it regularly assessed its supply chain to identify and address any concerns and risks of exploitation.

“We strive to ensure that workers in our supply chain have fair treatment, safe working conditions, and freely chosen employment,” said Annukka Dickens, HP’s director for human rights and supply chain responsibility.

Also read: Another Security flaw is Revealed By Intel in its Chips

Intel, Apple, BOE Technology and Largan Precision did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (VOA)