Tell the FDA: Don’t Release Frankenbugs in Florida!
Genetically engineered mosquitoes, or Frankenbugs, are one step closer to being released in Florida.
Oxitec, a British company recently purchased by Intrexon Corp. (NYSE:XON), which also bought the creators of GMO salmon and GMO apples, wants to release millions of experimental GMO mosquitoes for the first time in the U.S., in the Florida Keys.
And U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) officials are about to greenlight the plan, unless we can convince the not to.
DEADLINE MAY 13: Tell the FDA: Don’t release GMO mosquitoes in Florida!
The FDA released a preliminary finding of “no significant impact to the environment” for Oxitec’s proposal. The public comment period on this finding has been extended until May 13, 2016.
Oxitec’s GMO mosquitoes (OX513A) were developed to combat wild populations of the aedes aegypti mosquito which transmits diseases such as dengue fever and the Zika virus. The GMO mosquitoes are bred in the lab to survive only in the presence of the antibiotic tetracycline. Male mosquitoes are released, they mate with wild females, and their offspring die in the larval stage due to the absence of the antibiotic.
But there are several flaws in that plan. Despite their genetically engineered “kill switch,” three percent of the GMO mosquitoes can survive the absence of tetracycline. Plus, tetracycline is commonly used in agricultural production and can be found in sewage and septic systems, so it’s not far-fetched to assume some of these mosquitoes will encounter tetracycline outside of the lab, increasing their chance of survival. In fact, according to Oxitec’s own study, up to 18 percent of the mosquitoes survived when fed cat food containing industrially farmed chicken, which is often contaminated with tetracycline.
And then there’s the question of effectiveness. According to GeneWatch, the science is inconclusive and claims of success in Oxitec press releases aren’t substantiated by published results. For instance, in one area it took millions of GMO mosquitoes to impact a wild population of only 20,000.
Oxitec stands to make a lot of money off its new Frankenbugs. New GMO mosquitoes have to be released as often as every month to keep a wild population suppressed. Participating countries would be locked into a permanent purchasing scheme with Oxitec. And that means millions if not billions of GMO mosquitoes released into the wild.
Open releases have already taken place in the Cayman Islands, Malaysia, Brazil and Panama. Once these mosquitoes are released in Florida, they may be there to stay. Without long-term studies, we don’t know whether or not these mosquitoes are toxic to people or animals, or if a decline in aedes aegypti could open an ecological niche that could be filled by a more harmful pest, such as the Asian Tiger mosquito.
Many Floridians have made it clear they don’t want to be a part of Oxitec’s experiment, especially considering that dengue fever hasn’t been a threat in the Keys in recent years.
There are just too many unanswered questions about the safety and effectiveness of Oxitec’s GMO mosquitoes for the FDA to approve their release in Florida, or anywhere else in the U.S.
DEADLINE MAY 13: Tell the FDA to reject GMO mosquitoes in Florida!
If you live in the Florida Keys area, please call the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District Key West office at (305-292-7190), and contact your Monroe county Commissioner. You can also submit a comment online.