Washington, D.C. — Today consumer and environmental groups sent a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott to encourage him to prevent the experimental release of British biotechnology company Oxitec’s genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. The letter, also sent to Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and the entire Florida congressional delegation, was signed by Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition and GMO Free Florida.
“South Florida’s environmentally sensitive landscape already endures many exotic and invasive species,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The proposed open-air release of millions of unregulated, experimental insects into the Florida Keys opens a Pandora’s box that cannot easily be sealed.”
The experiment raises serious concerns around the impact releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes could have on public health and the environment. This is the first genetically engineered insect to be introduced in the United States with the intent to wipe out a wild population in the name of disease control.
“The risks genetically engineered mosquitoes pose to the local ecology and to human health have yet to be properly studied by independent experts, nor has this technology been proven to even work in limiting the spread of disease,” said Eric Hoffman, food and technology policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “Right now, the residents are left having to take Oxitec’s word that its technology is safe. Citizens in the Keys deserve better science and deserve to be protected from this unproven and risky technology by their elected officials.”
Oxitec claims the purpose of the experiment is to determine if the Aedes aegypti mosquito population will be reduced, as genetically engineered males mate with wild females, passing on a genetic defect that kills their offspring before they reach adulthood. The company claims this would theoretically reduce the mosquito population and the prevalence of dengue fever despite the fact that the Florida Keys had no reported cases of dengue fever in 2011.
“Communities near the proposed test areas should not become Oxitec’s laboratory for the field release of genetically engineered mosquitoes,” said Marian Ryan, Sierra Club Florida’s Conservation Chair. “Since the federal government is not regulating these insects, Florida’s government should step up to protect Floridians and prohibit the release of these unregulated and uncontrolled mosquitoes in South Florida.”
Despite the grave and growing public concerns that have been raised about the mosquitoes, there is no indication that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or any other federal or state agency has evaluated the safety of the company’s release. Nor does any agency seem to know who is actively responsible for considering it. Regardless of this lack of clarity about which federal agency will have oversight of Oxitec’s transgenic mosquitoes, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is still interested in moving ahead with a field trial in 2012.
On April 3, 2012, the Key West City Commission voted 5-2 to pass a resolution objecting to the release of Oxitec’s mosquitoes. “We urge Governor Rick Scott to stand with Key West residents and our elected officials and oppose the release of these genetically engineered mosquitoes,” said Meagan Morrison, board member of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition.