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A Proposed Trial of GMO Mosquitoes Divided Voters in Florida

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 9:44
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Natural Society

Residents of the Florida Keys are at odds over whether a trial of GMO mosquitoes should move forward in the area. [1]

The proposed trial would take place in Key Haven, where the people of that community voted against the mosquitoes’ release on November 8. Sixty-five percent of voters shot down the ballot measure. However, 58% of voters in Monroe County favored the test. The final decision will go to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board. [2]

The genetically-engineered mosquitoes, developed by Oxitec, are designed so that the male insects pass a gene on to their offspring that kills them before they reach adulthood and can breed. Ideally, the GM mosquitoes would halt the proliferation of mosquitoes and reduce mosquito-born diseases, including the Zika virus. [1]

When the trial was first proposed in the Florida Keys, the area was coping with an outbreak of dengue fever. Over the summer, a few cases of Zika popped up in the Miami-Dade area.

Oxitec claims that in its other field trials in countries like Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands, there was a 90% drop in the local Aedes aegypti mosquito population – the same type of mosquito known to spread Zika and many other illnesses.

Some Keys residents who oppose the trial said they are concerned about the potential environmental impact of the GMO mosquito trial. Michael Welber, a Florida Keys resident and environmental activist, explained:

“As a country we have a tendency to overreact and then do things that we later regret and wish we could take back.”

Despite the split, Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry is optimistic that the trial would move forward. He said:

“To make this technology available to people to protect them from Zika in the short term, we want to go ahead and do the trial in Key Haven as planned.” [2]

According to Parry, if the trial is site-specific, meaning it is moved out of Key Haven, Oxitec would have to consult the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first. That means it could be delayed for several more months.

The FDA said in August that its assessment of the Oxitec mosquitoes concluded that releasing the insects will not have a significant impact on the environment.


[1] Time

[2] MIT Technology Review

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