KEY LARGO – Local efforts have been made to exclude Key Largo from a trial of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes scheduled for spring.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Keys Mosquito Control District have approved the release of GMO insects from UK-based biotech company Oxitec to combat the disease-causing wild mosquito population by effectively killing them.
Once a site is selected, Oxitec plans to release millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes from around 130 boxes to be placed in a test area for approximately 28 weeks, Oxitec spokeswoman Meredith Fensom recently said.
Kim Sikora, a resident of Stillwright Point, suspects Key Largo will be selected as a test site in light of this year’s dengue outbreak, which hit milestone 103 the hardest. From March to September, the local health department confirmed 56 cases of dengue fever, a disease transmitted by the bite of an infected female Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Sikora has distributed signs in the Upper Keys that oppose publication.
“There is just no communication, so there is a strong belief that they will be released in Key Largo,” she said. “These signs are basically just our attempt to proactively prevent FKMCD from using our property as a test area. In principle, these signs are intended for anyone who opposes their property being used as a test area. “
Mara Daly, who opposed an initial attempt to release GMO mosquitoes a few years ago, said a sign in her yard was the only remaining option to oppose the trials.
“I know this mark won’t be enough to dissuade you, but I don’t want to be part of an experiment that doesn’t go well. The mosquito control district reduces half the population. It is the only opposition we have at the moment, namely to hold a stake in our court, ”she said.
A non-binding referendum in Monroe County in 2016 resulted in 58% of voters approving a release of GMO mosquitos.
Fensom has previously said, “We will not go where we are not wanted.”
A fluorescent red marker identifies the genetically modified DNA of Oxitec in mosquito eggs. According to Oxitec, the DNA should have a self-destructive mechanism that prevents the biting female offspring from reaching adulthood. Oxitec plans to release millions of male Aedes aegypti eggs in two phases. The mosquitoes hatch after rain or when water is added. Oxitec claims that no female mosquitoes are released.
The self-destruct gene weakens by about 50% with each generation.
“I’m just trying to let other people know. It seems like nobody really knows anything about it, and that’s going to happen, ”Sikora said.
The company has not given an exact number of how many laboratory-raised mosquitoes will be released, as the release will be “proportional to the number of wild mosquitos” in the selected area, Fensom said.
Barry Wray, president of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, who opposes the release, said he had heard that a billion mosquitoes will be released.
“Don’t release these mosquitoes with this level of verification,” he said. “They haven’t even studied what can happen to endangered species native to the area.”
Several groups, including the Center for Food Safety, the International Center for Technology Assessment and Friends of the Earth, tabled a letter of intent in June. They claim that the EPA broke the law by not consulting wildlife authorities before determining that the mosquitoes were not a risk to endangered species.
“The use of a non-indigenous strain can lead to changes in disease transmission characteristics spreading to the wild mosquito population and / or to the emergence of strains that exhibit a” hybrid vigor “(e.g. become more fertile, as has been shown for hybrid strains of other mosquito species) “Wrote the Center for Food Safety to the EPA.
FKMCD chairman Phil Goodman, who voted for publication, said he was from the EPA, the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, the Florida Departments of Agriculture, Health and Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has received approvals for safety and other state regulatory agencies.
He has described the opposition as “based on twisted facts”, what if “Assumptions” and “Jurassic Park” are “afraid of deception”.
Two Upper Keys doctors recently voted in favor of the test clearance. Dr. John Weare called mosquitoes some of the deadliest animals on the planet because they are a major vector of disease. Dr. Susana May selected for the test, stating that she had seen firsthand the plight of dengue fever in young children while working in Venezuela.
Oxitec will host a public educational webinar on Wednesday, December 16 at 5:00 p.m. The theme is “What’s in the box?”. and it will be about how Oxitec’s Just-Add-Water technology helps control the Aedes aegypti population.
The webinar lasts an hour and the company then answers questions. Visit keysmosquitoproject.com for details.
For more information on local opposition to the publication, visit stopgmm.com.