On Aug. 18, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to approve a trial using Oxitec’s second generation Genetically Modified Mosquitoes (GMM). If successful, this technology may help control mosquito borne diseases here in the future. GMM is one of three Sterile Insect Techniques of interest to FKMCD and this one offers several potentially large advantages. The decision to try GMM was more than 10 years in the making and has received the needed regulatory approvals for safety from the EPA, CDC, FDA, Florida Dept of Agriculture, Florida Dept. of Health, Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife and other state regulatory agencies. No matter what credentials one holds, it is hard to effectively second guess this large collective force of our nation’s, and the world’s leading doctors, scientists and researchers. In addition, a non-binding referendum held in Monroe County in 2016 resulted in 58% of the voters agreeing to try GMM. This margin is greater than that obtained by most winning political candidates. The trial will begin in 2021 and the location of the trial will be announced soon followed by extensive public education on GMM directed to those areas. The specifics of the trial have been approved by the regulatory authorities and the CDC will assist in overseeing the trial and evaluating the results.
This trial is necessary because South Florida is the “Undisputed Hot Spot” in the United States for mosquito borne diseases primarily carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. These include yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika. The numbers of these mosquitoes and the threat of disease continue to grow in many areas of the Keys. In addition, the Aedes aegypti mosquito has become resistant to the better pesticides used to control them while our arsenal of chemicals is being diminished by regulations. Most mosquito borne viruses have neither therapeutic treatments nor vaccines so the only way to control these viruses is to control the mosquito. That is the responsibility of mosquito control and we must find a solution. All the experts agree we need new technologies to combat this real threat to our community and what can be better than using mosquitoes to kill mosquitoes. For years, FKMCD has been working proactively to fill this world-wide technology gap in mosquito control to avoid a local epidemic. We are now ready to take the first step forward.
However, not everyone is in favor of the trial. Those opposing the project had ample opportunity to state their concerns in writing to the federal, state and local authorities and some met with those agencies in person. Each objection was studied in detail and answered at the federal level. Without exception, every objection was determined to have no or negligible potential impact on people, wildlife, or the environment in the Keys. This information is public record.
The FKMCD is one of the highest rated in the country and the Board takes its public health responsibilities seriously; we live here too! We welcome honest and science-based discussions to find the best solutions. However, much of the opposition focused on twisted facts, “what if” assumptions and “Jurassic Park” fear mongering. Those opposed had their say, but theirs was not the final say. We listened to their opinions and then received hundreds of second opinions when you consider the combined numbers in these approving regulatory agencies. We heard all the hypotheticals of what a male GMM flying around you may do, but we know exactly what an infected wild female Aedes aegypti mosquito will do. Unfortunately, the need for new technology is now even more evident with the current dengue fever outbreak in the Upper Keys. There are other regions of the Keys with even higher risks so we should not waste more time.
We now have the regulatory approvals for safety and we finally have the chance to determine if it works locally. If it does, this may be a real game changer for Mosquito Control in the Keys and the world. Please stay tuned.
Commissioner, District II and Board Chair
Florida Keys Mosquito Control District