Recently, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency website published content about a genetic modification program called “Insect Allies.” The program seeks to mitigate the threat posed by invasive species by using targeted gene therapy to protect mature crops.
Why does the U.S. military involve itself in agriculture and food security programs? Is the Insect Allies bioengineering program exclusively an agricultural project? Military analyst Shao Yongling provides an in-depth analysis.
She explains in layman’s terms that the Insect Allies bioengineering program modifies genes inside plant viruses, which insects consume and transmit, to confer protective traits to target plants and protect the crop system from damage.
Shao Yongling: According to DARPA’s hypothesis, in the event of a natural disaster or a sudden bioweapon attack against major crops, the Insect Allies bioengineering program will rapidly deploy insects carrying genetically engineered viruses to the threatened crops. The viruses will make genetic modifications to the crops to protect the U.S. agricultural production system and to ensure that Americans have food on their plates.
Shao acknowledges that agriculture and food security is a national security issue, and so the prevention and control of crop diseases and insect pests is naturally a priority. However, it cannot be ruled out that this research, conducted by the U.S. military to use insects to transmit genetically modified viruses to field crops and thus artificially control crop yields or mitigate a failed harvest, could also be used by the U.S. military to develop bioweapons.
Shao Yongling: In international law, a factor for determining whether a biological research project is weaponized is whether the research is conducted exclusively for peaceful purposes. Using insects as a carrier for viruses is characterized by low costs and difficulty in detecting. If it is used by individuals or countries with ulterior motives to attack another country’s crops, it will inevitably result in a food catastrophe. The security threat is clear cut. Moreover, crop diseases and insect pests are difficult to control; once a crop is infected, it may result in reduced production or crop failure. Even if research produces a temporary solution, viruses are in a constant state of mutation. Although the Insect Allies bioengineering program seems to be a food security project, it is led by a U.S. military agency responsible for the development of advanced weaponry. I believe we cannot exclude the possibility of the weaponization of this project.
DARPA states that the purpose of the Insect Allies bioengineering program is to protect U.S. cropping systems. In this regard, Shao believes that there are many other ways of dealing with agriculture and food security issues, and that this plan of the U.S. military carries great hidden dangers to food security and even to ecological security. The intentions of this path of research and development are suspicious.
Shao Yongling: It is a deal with the devil. Once insects enter the farmland, it is difficult to restrain their range. At the same time, it is still unknown whether these genetic modifications are hereditary. Experts are concerned that once this technology is let loose, it may cause unanticipated damage to the entire ecosystem. In my opinion, there are many ways to deal with food security issues, so DARPA’s choice of using genetic modification to protect crops is smoke and mirrors. This project is headed by the U.S. military. Based on previous patterns of behavior of the U.S. military, it is easy for people to associate it with biological weapons and biological warfare.