Amid coronavirus crisis, federal approval of genetically engineered mosquito ignores risk

EPA approves release of genetically engineered mosquitoes in Florida Keys and Harris County, Texas

WASHINGTON Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the release of millions of genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes in Monroe County, Florida and Harris County, Texas. This approval was based on incomplete and inadequate information and documentation, and gives a green light to the first GE mosquito release in the U.S.

Documents submitted by British company Oxitec, owned by venture capital firm Third Security, LLC, did not include data about the proposed new GE mosquitoes, data about the sites proposed for release in either Florida or Texas, details about Oxitecs proposed experimental program, an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS).

Dana Perls, food and technology program manager with Friends of the Earth, issued the following statement in response:

Shame on the EPA for turning communities in Florida and Texas into laboratories for corporate biotech’s experiments. Genetically engineered mosquitoes pose significant risks to human health and the environment.

The Trump Administration’s dangerous decision to proceed with its extreme deregulatory agenda during a global health crisis could have terrible consequences. Instead of slashing important safety regulations to satisfy corporate interests, we should use the least risky alternatives that won’t harm our environment and health.

GE mosquitoes could pose significant threats to public health and sensitive ecosystems like the Florida Everglades and flood-prone areas in Texas. A recent study from the Powell lab at Yale University confirmed that the mosquitoes are not sterile, despite Oxitec’s claims, and that the offspring of the company’s genetically engineered mosquitoes survived into adulthood and engineered genes had spread into wild populations of mosquitoes. Scientists have raised major concerns that GE mosquitoes will create hybrid wild mosquitoes, which may worsen the spread of disease and be more resistant to insecticides than the original wild mosquitoes.

In public comments to the EPA, Friends of the Earth requested a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and that it should be reviewed by a committee of independent ecologists and entomologists, public health experts, and other key experts and public stakeholders. The EPA should also convene public meetings in sites of release as well as the areas surrounding the release site in Florida and Texas. The comments further stated that the EPA should not have considered any application for GE insects without instituting regulations appropriate for genetically engineered insects designed to be bio-pesticides. 

The EPA announced that if approved by state and local authorities, millions of GE mosquitoes will be released over a two-year period in Monroe County, Florida, beginning in summer 2020, and in Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021.

Contact: Erin Jensen, (202) 222-0722, ejensen@foe.org

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