Florida approves extension of field trial of GE mosquitoes despite concerns

But scientists, environmental groups and public health experts warned that the Florida Department of Agriculture's (FDAC) approval for Oxitec's continued field trial came despite major health and ecosystem concerns.

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Updated 05/10/2022: This article has been updated to clarify and correct some information in the article based on information provided directly to NoC from Oxitec.

The Florida Department of Agriculture approved an extension of a field trial that will again release about five million genetically engineered mosquitoes into the Florida Keys. The approval comes just after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted Oxitec, a U.S. owned company based in the UK performing the field trial, a two-year extension for its Experimental Use Permit, which will allow the release of a GE version of the species Aedes aegypti across Monroe County, Florida, Common Dreams reported.

But scientists, environmental groups and public health experts warned that the Florida Department of Agriculture’s (FDAC) approval for Oxitec’s continued field trial came despite major health and ecosystem concerns.

“We should all be very concerned about an EPA that forgets its middle name, protection, with this approval. Our public trust is abused by Oxitec’s lack of scientific transparency and no independent scientific investigation from EPA to show this experimental insect will not create infinitely more problems than it will solve,” Barry Wray, director of Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, said. “The EPA has behaved as if it is in partnership with Oxitec, disregarding the company’s history of deception and allowing a lobbyist to meet EPA Administrator Pruitt in (YEAR). It is ethically repugnant to release these mosquitoes.”

While Oxitec claims its “GE mosquito field trials are intended to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes —one species that can carry yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya and Zika,” the data from the 2021 field trial in Florida has not been made public and hasn’t gone through review from independent scientists, which scientists said is protocol. Therefore, researchers and scientists said that both the FDAC and the EPA put a “private corporation over public health and ecosystem protection.”

“FDACS should have required Oxitec to cease claiming as ‘confidential business information’ their data on the human health and environmental effects of the release of the mosquitoes,” Jaydee Hanson, policy director at Center for Food Safety, said. “Moreover, FDACS should not have allowed a second major release without making public the data from the first trial and having it reviewed by unbiased scientists in the field.”

According to Oxitec, “there are over 100 independent peer-reviewed scientific publications on Oxitec’s technology.” A spokesperson for the company said, “the EPA’s scientific and environmental assessments for the original EUP included a review of over 4,500 pages of data and protocols, including 2,500+ pages of scientific peer-reviewed literature.” The company’s Public Educational Webinar discusses takeaways from the 2021 Oxitec Mosquito Project and planning for 2022. 

According to a study conducted by Yale University in Brazil, observation from the study confirmed that “GE mosquitoes bred with local Aedes aegypti, resulting in hybrid mosquitoes in the wild that may be more aggressive, more difficult to eradicate and may increase the spread of mosquito-borne disease,” Common Dreams reported. Scientists and researchers warned that since the EPA did not publicly share its entire public health analysis, or data about allergenicity and toxicity, the EPA’s key environmental assessments were “insufficient and did not mandate scientific tests using caged trials ahead of environmental release.”

“Poorly done, secretive science and lack of transparency is once again being rewarded with a free pass by government officials who are ignoring the voices of concerned scientists and those most impacted.” said Dana Perls, Emerging Technology Program Manager at Friends of the Earth. “First in Brazil, and now in Florida, government agencies have missed the mark and promoted the interests of a private corporation over public health and ecosystem protection.”

Oxitec provided additional resources to include: The U.S. EPA’s approval of and complete risk assessment of the pilot project; The U.S. EPA’s responses to public comments;  100+ independent peer-reviewed scientific publications on Oxitec technology;  Oxitec’s announcement of pilot results in Brazil; Oxitec’s resource hub for all things Oxitec and California; The FKMCD – Oxitec Mosquito Project website.

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Ashley is an editor, social media content manager and writer at NationofChange. Before joining NoC, she was a features reporter at The Daily Breeze – a local newspaper in Southern California – writing a variety of stories on current topics including politics, the economy, human rights, the environment and the arts. Ashley is a transplant from the East Coast calling Los Angeles home.

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