Many Florida Keys residents needlessly concerned about the safety of GM mosquitoes

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Sunset In The KeysLast month we wrote about British biotech firm, Oxitec, aiming to release their genetically engineered mosquitoes in Key Haven, Florida, this spring. The mosquitoes were developed to help fight dengue and chikungunya, which are two viruses spread by the dangerous and difficult-to-control Aedes aegypti mosquito. However, according to an article in today s New York Times, Florida Keys residents are suspicious about the safety of Oxitec s GM mosquitoes, and many are opposing the Florida trial.

The article quotes a local who expressed concern that the Keys residents are being experimented on without consent. Another was troubled by the lack of information being given by Oxitec. Other residents are having a hard time believing safety claims from a company that will be profiting from the project.

An online petition to stop the release of the mosquitoes has received more than 149,000 signatures, and residents sent 1,600 emails to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control district, which is working with Oxitec on the project.

Executive director of the mosquito control district, Michael S. Doyle, said a better weapon is needed to control dengue and chikungunya, and thinks the project is a great solution. Using the mosquitoes against themselves avoids two of the biggest problems first, how to get the right chemicals to the elusive mosquitoes without causing collateral damage to beneficial animals, he told the NYT. And second, how to find and repeatedly remove the thousands upon thousands of breeding spots that people unintentionally create all around our homes. He also stated that opponents of the GM mosquito release made up a vocal minority in the Keys.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom agrees wholeheartedly: What people fail to grasp is that everything alive is genetically modified, but by a different, much slower process called evolution. GM technology does this much faster, and in a more controlled way. If the Keys residents believe they are being experimented on, they are correct, but for a different reason. They are now being exposed to a very nasty viral infection that is new to the area. That is the experiment I would avoid.

The Florida Keys will not be the first trial for Oxitec s mosquitoes. They have already been introduced for field trials in Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Malaysia, and Panama. Reports by Oxitec and academic and government officials say these trials have reduced mosquitoes in targeted areas by 60 to 90 percent.

Based on the trials conducted, we re confident that our mosquito is safe for humans and would do no harm to the environment, as were the regulators who approved its use, stated Chris Creese, Oxitec s communications director.

Clarification: In last month s article on the topic, we stated that chikungunya infected one million people last year in the Caribbean, as well as in Virginia, Florida and Puerto Rico. Dr. David N. Gaines, Virginia s chief entomologist, pointed out to us that the Virginia cases were imported and not due to local transmission. Also, insecticides are still very effective tools for mosquito control, and rotation of insecticide classes effectively prevents significant resistance.