An open letter from the Monroe County Environmental Coalition to Keys elected officials:
To all elected officials who have campaigned on improving public health and environmental issues and appointed public officials who are responsible for protecting the public health, safety, and welfare, as well as our important environment throughout the Florida Keys, please read and respond to each of the items below. These issues raised at public meetings for years have been met with silence and inaction by most and stifling by the County Commission. Officials, with fingers in ears, eagerly address developments in southwest Miami Dade, but are tongue-tied on a matter of health and safety in our own community.
This is an opportunity for members of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) to support their historical claims and positions and for each elected official throughout Monroe County at the county, municipal and state level to comment for the benefit of our community. Historically, members of FKMCD have provided repetitive responses that promote vendor marketing messages, devoid of independent scientific support for performance claims, while characterizing our questions as being filled with false representations. Despite repeated appeals for examples or proof of “misrepresentation,” none are provided by Chairman Phil Goodman, or any of our FKMCD board members.
This is a FKMCD board sporting record tax increases, polluted land requiring remediation and nearly $1 million in financial penalties, a surprise dengue outbreak while ignoring years of trap data showing the mosquito increases in Key Largo with no prevention taken or warning given.
Now our FKMCD has bought a shiny new squadron of exotic aircraft, contrasting the fact that both outbreaks since 2009 were resolved with boots on the ground basic control methods.
The time has come for your response to these deceptions and lies:
- “We ran a referendum and the 31 of 33 precincts approved the release of the GMM experiment.”
The OX5034 is very different from the previous genetically modified mosquito, OX513A, that was planned for release. Our public has never voted on the release of OX5034 and only one community, Key Haven, was ever provided the opportunity to decide if they wanted to be part of a wild release of GMMs. Key Haven rejected the technology on a 2:1 margin after four years of study.
Goodman and others within the FKMCD forced a poorly understood subject and vote onto the broader community of the Florida Keys, with only six weeks to educate the public on a complex subject like GMMs and experimentation risks….This is not a badge of honor, or an endorsement by our community, it is a reprehensible embarrassment of how disingenuous politically or egotistically motivated officials can be if they choose. It should be and is viewed by many in Monroe County, as a betrayal of trust….
- “The Oxitec GMM reduces the number of people who get Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika.”
This statement was never proven correct by the EPA or any other government agency, because of several factors, perhaps the most concerning being other vector mosquitoes that carry these diseases backfilling the Aedes Aegypti (AA) habitat upon suppression and being capable of infecting humans at similar rates.
- “Oxitec will be good because we will reduce the use of chemicals.” There will be “no reduction” of chemical spraying, as stated by Andrea Leal and Michael Doyle at FKMCD. Because the AA is a small percentage of the mosquito population in the Florida Keys, the same amount of chemicals must continue. Which way is it?
- “It’s a free trial.” Perhaps if you don’t count all the hours FKMCD workers are contributing to the test program, since they are the only ones administering the field part of the experiment, wear and tear on equipment, fuel cost and all the overhead that comes along with it. Let’s sum that up and see how close to free it is.
- “There have been no studies that found any negative impacts on humans.” There have been absolutely no scientific studies on humans, period. There are no independent studies to support any of Oxitec’s claims. Contrary to this claim, Oxitec has prevented nearly three dozen doctors, on a signed petition, from investigating the potential of their technology to promote and spread antibiotic resistant bacteria. Why would this public health concern, expressed by approximately 20% of the physicians in the Keys, not be supported by our Department of Health and the FKMCD?
- “These Oxitec Genetically Modified Mosquitoes (GMMs) have been tested all over the world.” Not a single tested location decided to use this bio-pesticide. In Malaysia, India, Panama, the Caymans and in Brazil, where Oxitec has full commercial sales authority since 2016, there is no mass adoption, only trials that are grant-funded or paid for by Oxitec. Perhaps a cost benefit analysis would be appropriate? Despite numerous community requests, the FKMCD has never seen the need, but they have released an invasive, genetically modified species that they do not fully understand in our communities.
- “The EPA conducted independent studies to prove Oxitec’s claims are valid.” As reported to Congressman Carlos Gimenez, in response to his official letter of inquiry, not only has no independent testing been reported by the EPA, but the EPA did not and continues not to require an independent study that proves the claims made by Oxitec prior to testing on human and the wild ecosystems. Oxitec hired Roy Bailey, a politically connected lobbyist, who began a campaign to instill fear and achieve compliance from EPA officials during the OX5034 Experimental Use Permit evaluation process. Objectively, EPA officials who were not part of the OX5034 evaluation process, but instead in charge of Pesticides Enforcement for the EPA, stated that vendor claims of product safety and efficacy are not accepted and require third-party independent verification through defined scientific processes. This has not occurred with Oxitec’s technology, primarily due to political interference it seems.
These are but a few of the issues about which our elected officials should be aware and provide their comments to our community about acceptability and concerns. Elected officials like Goodman, who have the responsibility of acting in good faith for the interest of the community, have taken a combative position with local opponents who simply insist that our human and ecosystem health deserves the protection that only honesty, transparency and competence can provide.
Each of these seems absent from the FKMCD process and decision, while affinity and submission to a vendor has been clearly demonstrated by various members for years. In 2018 Goodman was a key component of an Oxitec marketing video. Seen by many and exposed, it is now hidden away. The current contract for the “experiment” assures Oxitec controls all information. We will never know the truth, no one will.
In an intoxicated stupor to experiment on the Keys with a risky bio-pesticide, AA mosquito counts in Key Largo rose over the years preceding the 2020 dengue outbreak, yet not a word was mentioned to those vulnerable to the increasing risk. Why wasn’t it treated when it was manageable?
Perhaps we need a different process for choosing competent members who oversee the interest of the Florida Keys community in abating mosquitoes? We are not beholden to an elected state body known as the FKMCD. They have surely shown they are not beholden to us.
Florida Keys Environmental Coalition