Despite opposition due to public health concerns based on scientific research, the Environmental Protection Agency has given the green light for the release of billions of experimental genetically-engineered mosquitoes; the largest release of GE insects in the world.
An experimental use permit was granted to Oxitec, a British biotechnology company, in which a “version” of the species Aedes aegypti would be released into parts of Southern California and Florida. The program in Monroe County in Florida is being extended from last spring, and expanded across Fresno, Tulare, San Bernadino and Stanislaus Counties in California.
Environmentalists called last year’s release a “dark moment in history“, citing that no sufficient scientific study was done to investigate the supposed benefits and the potential harms of the experiment. Moreover, critics viewed the move as having nothing to do with safety but with maximizing profits for the biotech giant.
Oxitec maintains Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are being genetically modified with the goal of reducing the transmission of harmful diseases like dengue, Zika and yellow fever. The male species, which do not bite, would be released into the wild to mate with females which do bite. The company says the resulting offspring, regardless of sex, will not survive to reach maturity.
There are issues which draw suspicion to Oxitec’s plan: The Aedes aegypti mosquito is not prevalent in California, and the state–according to the Centers for Disease Control–does not have any cases of the harmful diseases listed.
Said Friends of the Earth environmentalist and California resident Dana Perls, “Scientists have found genetic material from GE mosquitoes in wild populations at significant levels, which means GE mosquitoes are not sterile. GE mosquitoes could result in far more health and environmental problems than they would solve… (the) EPA needs to do a real review of potential risks and stop ignoring widespread opposition in the communities where releases will happen.”
While Oxitec states the GE insects will reduce incidence of the mosquito-borne diseases, there is no publicly available data that supports their claim. As well, Yale University scientists conducted an independent peer-reviewed study on GE mosquitoes. It revealed that over two years of continual releases at a test site in Brazil failed to reduce populations of Aedes aegypti.
According to The Defender:
- The EPA did not publicly release any data from Oxitec field trials in Florida or Brazil and key information about health effects, including allergenicity and toxicity, was redacted from the company’s application for a permit.
- The EPA did not require key scientific assessments, including an endangered species assessment, public health impact analysis or caged trials ahead of any environmental release. The EPA declined to convene a Scientific Advisory Panel as it does for other new pesticides.
Next, California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation will have their say on whether to approve the permit. If that passes, billions of GE mosquitoes will be released over a 2-year period in those 4 counties in California. The current GE mosquito release in Monroe County, Florida, will be extended for another 2 years.