Researchers plan to release more than 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022 after receiving final approval from local authorities. However, many local residents and environmental advocacy groups are speaking out against the release.
The proposal already earned state and federal approval. Why are they releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida? The release is part of a pilot project to test whether genetic modification can serve as an alternative to insecticides. The research is focused on the Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that can carry deadly diseases like Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
The Department of Environment Protection Agency approved the project in May.
Here’s what you need to know:
An Activist Compared the Release of the Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Jurassic Park
Florida to release 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes https://t.co/AjSfSXm2P8
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) August 20, 2020
The International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, released a statement comparing the release of genetically modified mosquitoes to the Jurassic Park movies. She said the Environment Protection Agency did not conduct studies to see what could happen with the release of the mosquitoes in the Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022.
“With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the State of Florida — the Covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change — the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment. Now the Monroe County Mosquito Control District has given the final permission needed. What could possibly go wrong? We don’t know, because EPA unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks, now without further review of the risks, the experiment can proceed,” said Jaydee Hanson, the organization’s policy director.
Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board received more than 2,000 comments from locals objecting the release, the statement said. The Board members rejected a proposal allowing residents to vote on a referendum regarding the release, according to the statement.
“The release of genetically engineered mosquitoes will needlessly put Floridians, the environment and endangered species at risk in the midst of a pandemic,” said Dana Perls, food and technology Program Manager at Friends of the Earth. “This approval is about maximizing Oxitec’s profits, not about the pressing need to address mosquito-borne diseases.”
The Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Produce Female Offspring That Die as Larva, & Will Also Be Released in Texas
A plan to release millions of genetically modified #mosquitoes in 2021 has won final approval from authorities in the #Florida Keys, despite the objection of many local residents and a coalition of environmental advocacy groups. #GMOhttps://t.co/6Be2wf6qZp
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) August 20, 2020
The mosquitoes were modified to produce female offspring that die in the larval stage, long before they can grow to bite humans and spread diseases. Only female mosquitoes bite humans for blood, because human blood is needed to mature her eggs. Males only feed on nectar. The genetically modified mosquitoes are named OX5034.
The genetically modified mosquitoes also won federal approval in May to be released into Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021, according to a statement from Oxitec. Oxitec is the company that developed the genetically modified organism, called a GMO.
“Winning the growing war against disease-spreading mosquitoes will require a new generation of safe, targeted, and sustainable tools for governments and communities alike. And as we’re learning with the devastating COVID-19 crisis, it is critical to aggressively address global public health challenges head-on with a broad coalition of stakeholders. Our aim is to empower governments and communities of all sizes to effectively and sustainably control these disease-spreading mosquitoes without harmful impact on the environment and without complex, costly operations. The potential for our technology to do so is unmatched, and this EPA approval will allow us to take the first steps towards making it available in the US,” said Grey Frandsen, Oxitec’s CEO.