After referenda in two Florida communities, one favoring and one rejecting the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes, the Board of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) has issued contrasting decisions—one supporting the release in Monroe County, where 57% of voters said “yea,” and the other rejecting the release in Key Haven, where 65% of voters said “nay.” The FKMCD decisions followed the voter totals even though the referenda, which took place November 8, were nonbinding.
The Monroe County decision was highlighted in a press release issued by Oxitec, the company that produces the OX513A mosquito, a transgenic strain the company hopes to release once all commercial approvals have been secured. OX513A mosquitoes carry a gene that they pass to their offspring after mating with wild specimens of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is known to transmit the dengue, Zika, and chikungunya viruses. The gene causes the offspring to accumulate a toxic protein and die before adulthood, thereby depleting local Aedes aegypti populations.
“Oxitec commends the Board of the FKMCD in this important decision, and we remain very committed to assisting the Florida Keys in their vector control efforts,” said Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry. “Our solution has repeatedly shown it has significant potential to play a meaningful role in controlling invasive populations of Aedes aegypti. We look forward to working with the Board given the urgent need for better approaches against this harmful vector.”
Efficacy trials in Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands have tested the Oxitec approach, and in these trials the population of Aedes aegypti was reduced by more than 90%
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously published a final finding of no significant impact (FONSI) on human health, animal health, or the environment based on an environmental assessment of Oxitec’s OX513A mosquito, which is designed to be self-limiting. Oxitec intends to release only male mosquitoes, which do not bite or spread disease, and the OX513A’s lethality gene is meant to kill the offspring that carry it before they can mate in turn and spread the gene through wild populations.
When the FDA issued its FONSI on August 5, it emphasized that its assessment did not mean that Oxitec’s mosquitoes were approved for commercial use. “Oxitec is responsible,” an FDA statement indicated, “for ensuring all other local, state, and federal requirements are met before conducting the proposed field trial.”
On December 5, a press release issued by the Friends of Earth (FOE) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) celebrated the FKMCD’s decision opposing against the Key Haven release. These organizations indicated that they were part of a coalition of public interest groups that had threatened to sue the FDA for “failing to take into account impacts to federally listed species.”
According to the FOE/CFS press statement, “release of GE mosquitoes elsewhere in Monroe Country will require the manufacturers, Oxitec, to resubmit a new application for a trial release with environmental data for the new site. If the FDA considers alternate locations proposed by Oxitec for a trial release, it will need to conduct the mandatory Environmental Assessment and indicate Findings of No Significant Impact for any new site.”