Community members and environmental groups denounce Florida Keys plans to release genetically engineered mosquitoes

EPA assessment of plan to release genetically engineered mosquitoes in Florida Keys inadequate

Marathon, Florida — At today’s meeting of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, community members and environmental groups including the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, Center for Food Safety, and Friends of the Earth denounced the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ decision to approve the permit for release of GE mosquitos. At the meeting, it was announced that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has already approved the permit for the release of the GE mosquitoes.

Despite public outcry and scientific dispute, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved GE mosquitoes for environmental release. The EPA announced that, if approved by state and local authorities, 750 million 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.

Advocates rallied in front of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. Participating organizations critiqued the EPA’s review of Oxitec’s application for failing to address important scientific controversy over whether GE mosquitoes will actually reduce the spread of diseases like West Nile, Dengue or Zika, as the company claims. In fact, scientists have raised major concerns that GE mosquitoes could create hybrid wild mosquitoes which could worsen the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and which may be more resistant to insecticides than the original wild mosquitoes.

“With all the urgent crises facing our nation—the Covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change—the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment.  What could possibly go wrong?  We don’t know, because they unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks,” said Jaydee Hanson, Policy Director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety.

“EPA’s assessment was inadequate and missed key evaluations. GE mosquitoes would be virtually unregulated if released into the environment and could have serious unintended consequences without providing any true solutions.” said Dana Perls, Food and Technology Program Manager with Friends of the Earth, U.S. “The pressing need to address mosquito-borne diseases should not be used to legitimize this type of ecological and public health gamble.”

“People here in Florida do not consent to the GE mosquitoes or to being human experiments. We are demanding sound science, not marketing hype. It is critical to prioritize the less risky, more environmentally sustainable, lower cost and natural alternatives,” said Barry Wray, Executive Director of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition.

The EPA review and environmental assessment also failed to evaluate key environmental concerns. Independent analyses have shown that GE mosquitoes could pose significant threats to sensitive ecosystems like the Florida Everglades. A recent field study in Brazil led by researchers from Yale University confirmed that engineered mosquito genes had spread into wild populations of mosquitoes.

Groups are calling on the EPA to convene public meetings in sites of release and surrounding areas in Florida and Texas ahead of any release. Local groups are also calling on the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board to not consider any application for GE insects without first creating appropriate regulations.

Additional Resources: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2019-0274

Communications contact: Aisha Dukule, 202-893-3502, [email protected]
Expert contacts: Dana Perls, 510-978-4425, [email protected]
Barry Wray, 305-304-9898, [email protected]

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