Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has announced a public workshop where citizens can ask/present questions about the possible experimental trial in the Florida Keys. It will be on Tuesday, July 14 from 5 to 8 p.m. Details about viewing/participation are coming as soon as they are finalized.

Main concern is environmental impact

As I watched the recent virtual FKMCD board meeting when Oxitec presented their newly approved product for a trial here in the keys, I reminisced about the seven years of research I have done on this company and shook my head in disbelief. Why are we still courting them? For years we, the concerned citizens, have craved data about this project, not just promises. My main concern is the potential negative impact to our environment and our residents. They touted their previous mosquito the ox513a as sterile males that mate with the local females and all of the larvae die and they can not persist in the environment. That is not what happened in previous trials in Cayman and Brazil. I prayed the EPA would evaluate this new technology with razor sharp precision, but they did not. The EPA had approved this trial based on a two-page letter requesting approval and the use of a heavy hitting lobbyist. Only after the permit was issued did supporting documents appear in the docket. During the public comment period 31,174 people expressed their concerns opposing this trial and 56 were in support. Yet it passed through. I have always felt that our government is behind the times of these new emerging technologies and need to start a new division to regulate them. I am not alone.

Recently, vector biologists, geneticists, policy experts and bioethicists, are concerned that current government oversight and scientific evaluation of GM mosquitoes do not ensure their responsible deployment. To address these shortcomings, the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign convened a “Critical Conversation” on GM mosquitoes.

A primary takeaway from this conversation was an urgent need to make regulatory procedures more transparent, comprehensive and protected from biases and conflicts of interest such as the EPA only using documentation from Oxitec to make decisions instead of using third party input.

This is impossible because Oxitec will not share their data.

I have read the internal emails received by a FOIA request in Cayman which clearly demonstrate that gm females were released in a trial there and the Cayman scientist said he was “firmly of the opinion that the data does not support a claim of 62% suppression.” Oxitec still claims upwards of 90% in their trials. That scientist remains under an NDA today.
No human impact studies were required by the EPA because Oxitec claims they only release males which do not bite, although the Cayman FOIA shows otherwise. The Environmental Species Act was not taken into account and there is currently a lawsuit against the EPA for being in violation of it.

Before we release potentially a half billion gm mosquitoes into our environment, potentially ruining tourism again, I demand data releases and proper regulatory oversight. Although I do not consent to this trial, I have no way to opt out. Please watch the FKMCD website for the upcoming Oxitec presentation to the public and join in with any concerns you have.

Mara Daly,
Key Largo

GMMs: ‘They’re back!’ But why?

To those of us who have opposed any premature release of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes (GMMs) in the Keys, Oxitec and their mutant mosquitoes seem like a continuous loop of Friday the 13th movies.  

It doesn’t matter to our Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) that the EPA was not going to approve the last technology, so Oxitec pulled their application, versus suffer a clear rebuke of the EPA.  Like usual, Oxitec spins that in a positive direction suggesting they pulled their application to apply with the new OX5034 mosquito, even though it was over a year away in development to even apply for an Experimental Use Permit (EUP). Oxitec’s comments being the latest episode of them, versus the truth, an “oil and water” saga, playing as a double feature in this surreal nightmare.

It also doesn’t matter that the Cayman, via 128 pages of emails from the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Wheeler, for the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) equivalent to the FKMCD, show that Oxitec ran an amateur lab where mold grew, people followed zero quality standards consider normal in any chemical working environment, like not using bare hands in the tetracycline trays, or walking around in tetracycline bath water acting as if antibiotic resistant bacteria couldn’t happen here. The emails released with a freedom of information request show that Oxitec, who swore an oath in front of the US Senate, Energy and Commerce Committee, and stated, “only males are released,” “all the offspring die,” and that the “mosquitoes cannot hybridize with wild mosquitoes,” because they all die, simply lied!

If your neighbor had their house painted and 2 weeks later it had faded and was peeling, would you hire the painter when they offered you a deal on your house? But our FKMCD commissioners would! This is the status of where we are now and why GMMs are a point of controversy again. 

Nearly three dozen doctors in the Lower Keys signed a petition asking simply to test the GMMs for antibiotic bacteria promotion (MRSA), but Oxitec has refused. Given all their other failures, it is understandable, but our FKMCD Commissioners continue to put our community at risk, by not simply requiring this profit vendor provide samples for independent, testing to be done before hand. 

It is quite perplexing, that our FKMCD has witnessed all of the lies, failures and obfuscation from this vendor, at one point almost signing a contract, until exposed, that would have put Oxitec in complete control of all information and results for any experiment and made our FKMCD workers work for them.  Yet our FKMCD Commissioners act as if Oxitec is some sort of godsend to solve all our mosquito problems. The Dengue outbreak in Key Largo is clear indication that the FKMCD has taken their eye off the ball and have permitted mosquitoes that can transmit disease, to prosper in places where they never did before. Not performing the basics well, continues to support their goal to make Oxitec their high-tech savior.  

The FKMCD continues to cry that they need new tools but neglect, or perhaps forgot, about their successful trial with Wolbachia on Stock Island even though terminated prematurely due to Hurricane Irma. While the results still have not been published for the Keys trial, Miami, one of the largest Wolbachia trials, showed an 80% suppression rate, a level the FKMCD Commissioners dream of.  Wolbachia a Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) releases male mosquitoes that are separated by technology, not by hand like Oxitec, and all offspring die period! Wolbachia is the largest SIT technique for mosquitoes used in many countries and China built the largest mosquito factory in the world based on this technology. Wolbachia has effectively eradicated Aedes mosquitoes from some areas of China. Our FKMCD could have easily asked for expanded trial permission of Wolbachia to assure they had the best tool available to provide protection of our community.

Oxitec has trialed their solution in 4 countries yet only one has permitted any experimentation and in very limited capacity, Brazil. Now we want to take this consistent failure and tattoo the Keys, a “National Marine Sanctuary,” with the label “Home to Genetically Modified Mosquitoes”? How is this good for attracting eco-conscientious tourists, families with young children, and anyone concerned about creating synthetic ecosystems made from manmade biology each time we need to “fix” mother nature? 

The FKMCD is holding workshops, but having Oxitec respond to Q&A results in redundant lies about their perfect technology. Our community needs balanced input from independent recognized experts, some of which have spontaneously weighed in recently in the Boston Globe and The Conversation, denouncing the EPA’s approval of the technology, questioning the unnecessary risk to deploy this nascent technology, given the shallow investigation by the EPA. These are recognized geneticist, biologist, ethical experts, etc. The Environmental Assessment (EA) process the EPA used to permit for Oxitec requires only data provided by Oxitec.  There is no actual testing, or independent review is done, despite Oxitec’s history of lies and mistakes. Think about all the things the FDA and EPA recall after approval. Feel safer now? 

In 2016 the Keys held a referendum. The community of Key Haven, inundated with Oxitec literature, had a chance to investigate and learn over a several year period about the technology rejecting it 3 to 1.  At last minute, the referendum was expanded to county-wide by commissioners who were in support of Oxitec and felt that the millions of dollars in marketing Oxitec had invested in, would be what people remembered and they would likely win across the Keys, and it did by a 58% to 42% margin. The six weeks to educate the Keys-wide community was a demonstration of the level of concern the FKMCD Commissioner had for our community. They wanted to win, not make sure our community could make an informed decision. Several of the Commissioners do not want our community to have a voice now!

Some Commissioners feel that a referendum held 4 years ago on a different manmade mosquito gives them the right to proceed. It is more likely that our community would like to know more and would benefit from other expert opinions before they “paint” their house! If you want to vote on it, please add your voice to the petition circulating in Monroe County. (tinyurl.com/y763loel)

Barry Wray,
executive director,
Florida Keys Environmental Coalition

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