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Agriculture / Organisms » Insects/Microorganisms

Title: US Groups Call On Florida Governor To Stop Release GE Mosquitoes
Publication date: May 24, 2012
Posting date: May 24, 2012

THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE

Item 1

Groups Call On Governor To Protect Floridians And Block Release Of Unregulated, Risky GE Mosquitoes

Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club, Florida Keys Environme

Press Release, 19 April 2012
http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/pressreleases/groups-call-on-governor-to-protect-floridians-and-block-release-of-unregulated-risky-ge-mosquitoes/


Washington, D.C.: Today consumer and environmental groups sent a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott to encourage him to prevent the experimental release of British biotechnology company Oxitec’s genetically engineered
(GE) mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. The letter, also sent to Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and the entire Florida congressional delegation, was signed by Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition and GMO Free Florida.

“South Florida’s environmentally sensitive landscape already endures many exotic and invasive species,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The proposed open-air release of millions of unregulated, experimental insects into the Florida Keys opens a Pandora’s box that cannot easily be sealed.”

The experiment raises serious concerns around the impact releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes could have on public health and the environment. This is the first genetically engineered insect to be introduced in the United States with the intent to wipe out a wild population in the name of disease control.

“The risks genetically engineered mosquitoes pose to the local ecology and to human health have yet to be properly studied by independent experts, nor has this technology been proven to even work in limiting the spread of disease,” said Eric Hoffman, food and technology policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “Right now, the residents are left having to take Oxitec’s word that its technology is safe. Citizens in the Keys deserve better science and deserve to be protected from this unproven and risky technology by their elected officials.”

Oxitec claims the purpose of the experiment is to determine if the Aedes aegypti mosquito population will be reduced, as genetically engineered males mate with wild females, passing on a genetic defect that kills their offspring before they reach adulthood. The company claims this would theoretically reduce the mosquito population and the prevalence of dengue fever despite the fact that the Florida Keys had no reported cases of dengue fever in 2011.

“Communities near the proposed test areas should not become Oxitec’s laboratory for the field release of genetically engineered mosquitoes,”
said Marian Ryan, Sierra Club Florida’s Conservation Chair. “Since the federal government is not regulating these insects, Florida’s government should step up to protect Floridians and prohibit the release of these unregulated and uncontrolled mosquitoes in South Florida.”

Despite the grave and growing public concerns that have been raised about the mosquitoes, there is no indication that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or any other federal or state agency has evaluated the safety of the company’s release. Nor does any agency seem to know who is actively responsible for considering it. Regardless of this lack of clarity about which federal agency will have oversight of Oxitec’s transgenic mosquitoes, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is still interested in moving ahead with a field trial in 2012.

On April 3, 2012, the Key West City Commission voted 5-2 to pass a resolution objecting to the release of Oxitec’s mosquitoes. “We urge Governor Rick Scott to stand with Key West residents and our elected officials and oppose the release of these genetically engineered mosquitoes,” said Meagan Morrison, board member of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition.

The letter to Governor Scott can be viewed here:
http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/GovernorScottLetter.pdf (or Item 2)

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

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Item 2

April 19, 2012

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

Dear Governor Scott,

The undersigned consumer and environmental groups urge you to prevent the experimental release of British biotechnology company Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.

This experiment would be a first in the United States. The supposed purpose of this experiment is to determine if the Aedes aegypti mosquito population will be reduced, as genetically engineered males mate with wild females, passing on a genetic defect that kills their offspring before they reach adulthood. The company claims this would theoretically reduce the mosquito population and the prevalence of dengue fever.

While mosquitoes that breed themselves out of existence may seem like a new option for dealing with the threat of disease and an irritating daily fact of life for Floridians, it has yet to be proven that this engineered mosquito is safe for people or the environment – or that it can effectively reduce the spread of dengue fever.

This would be the first genetically engineered insect to be introduced in the United States with the intent to wipe out a wild population in the name of disease control. Oxitec has already released millions of GE insects into the wild in South America and the Caribbean without studying potential environmental or health risks. Now Floridians are set to be Oxitec’s next guinea pigs, despite the fact that the Florida Keys had no reported cases of dengue fever in 2011.

The release of the company’s transgenic mosquitoes by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District was planned to occur as early as spring 2012.
According to the Associated Press, during a two-month trial, between 5,000 and 10,000 of these transgenic mosquitoes would be released into an undisclosed 36-square-acre block near the Key West Cemetery.

The experiment raises serious concerns around the impact releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes could have on public health and the environment. For example, biting female mosquitoes could inject an engineered protein into humans along with other proteins from the mosquitos’ salivary gland. Oxitec has yet to conduct or publish any study showing that this protein is not expressed in the salivary gland and therefore cannot be passed on to humans. This is a real concern, even though officials only plan to release non-biting males, as genetically engineered females can also be accidentally released.

The company expects each batch to contain less than one percent females.
This is because mosquito pupae are tiny and sorting them for a large-scale release leaves plenty of room for error. Additionally, 3.5 percent of the insects in an Oxitec lab test survived to adulthood despite presumably carrying the lethal gene. These two facts combined mean that there will be a significant number of genetically engineered female mosquitoes in the environment that bite humans and spread disease. Since Aedes aegypti females bite many people in one feeding, it is able to spread disease even at low population levels. This means Oxitec’s technology might not even work in limiting the spread of disease while still exposing Keys residents to possible risks.

Despite the grave and growing public concerns that have been raised about the genetically engineered mosquitoes, there is no indication that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration or any other federal or state agency has evaluated the safety of the company’s planned release. Nor has there been an independent analysis to examine the public health or environmental impacts of this release. While it does appear Oxitec has a pending application, no agency seems to know who is actively responsible for considering it. Recent reports claim that despite a lack of clarity on which federal agency will have oversight over Oxitec’s transgenic mosquitoes, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is still interested in moving ahead with their field trial in 2012.

Communities near the proposed test areas should not become Oxitec’s laboratory for the field release of genetically engineered mosquitoes.
Since the federal government is not actively regulating these insects, Florida’s government should step up to protect Floridians and prohibit the release of these unregulated and uncontrolled mosquitoes in South Florida.

On April 3, 2012, the Key West City Commission voted 5 to 2 to pass a resolution objecting to the release of Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitoes. Please stand with Key West residents and their elected officials and oppose the release of these genetically engineered mosquitoes.

If you have questions or need more information, please contact Meagan Morrison at morrisonmeagan@yahoo.com or at (305) 879-3042.


Sincerely,

Florida Keys Environmental Coalition
Food & Water Watch
Friends of the Earth
GMO Free Florida
Sierra Club Florida

Cc:

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam Florida congressional delegation

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