Some 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes will be released in the Florida Keys between 2021 and 2022 in an attempt to stop the spread of diseases like zika.
CNN reported that the genetically modified bugs, called OX5034, have been “altered to produce female offspring that die in the larval stage, well before hatching and growing large enough to bite and spread disease.” Since it’s the female of the species that bite, they are the ones that carry diseases. Males, the outlet reported, eat nectar.
The bugs were modified by Oxitec, a U.S.-owned company based in Great Britain, and will also be released in Harris County, Texas, starting next year. As CNN reported, the Environmental Protection Agency “granted Oxitec’s request after years of investigating the impact of the genetically altered mosquito on human and environmental health.”
“Winning the growing war against disease-spreading mosquitoes will require a new generation of safe, targeted, and sustainable tools for governments and communities alike. And as we’re learning with the devastating COVID-19 crisis, it is critical to aggressively address global public health challenges head-on with a broad coalition of stakeholders. Our aim is to empower governments and communities of all sizes to effectively and sustainably control these disease-spreading mosquitoes without harmful impact on the environment and without complex, costly operations. The potential for our technology to do so is unmatched, and this EPA approval will allow us to take the first steps towards making it available in the US,” Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen explained when the bugs were approved by the EPA.
“This is an exciting development because it represents the ground-breaking work of hundreds of passionate people over more than a decade in multiple countries, all of whom want to protect communities from dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and other vector-borne diseases,” he added.
Despite years of testing and approval from the federal and local governments, environmental activists still claim the genetically modified mosquitoes are a bad idea.
Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, released a statement on Wednesday claiming the EPA didn’t “seriously analyze environmental risks.”
“With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the State of Florida — the Covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change — the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment,” Hanson said.
“Now the Monroe County Mosquito Control District has given the final permission needed. What could possibly go wrong? We don’t know, because EPA unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks, now without further review of the risks, the experiment can proceed,” Hanson added.
The EPA approved the pilot project in May to test whether these modified bugs could be used as an alternative to spray insecticides to stop disease-carrying mosquitoes. Though Hanson tried to blame President Donald Trump’s administration for the mosquitoes, the project actually began in 2012 – under President Barack Obama – when the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District contacted Oxitec for help. Nearly a decade later, the mosquitoes will be released.