A company called Oxitec plans to release 5,000 to 10,000 genetically modified mosquitoes to fight the native population of mosquitoes in Key West, Florida. But residents are protesting that the potential harmful effects of the mosquitoes are uncertain.
The mosquitoes, according to the British company Oxitec, are designed to produce offspring that die quickly and could help to reduce or even eliminte the incidence of Dengue fever in the area. The company plans to release male mosquitoes to breed with wild females. The male mosquitoes, according to Oxitec, have an altered gene that kills them and the larvae that results from their mating.
WKMG-TV Local 6 reports that Oxitec says their genetically modified mosquitoes will help control mosquito populations by suppressing their ability to breed .
According to Florida Today, Oxitec is short for "Oxford Insect Technologies." Dengue fever is a disease that causes flu-like symptoms and could be fatal. The last outbreak of the illness in Old Town Key West was in 2009, but no new cases have been reported since 2010.
Key West residents are protesting the plan to release the mutant mosquitoes in the area. According to The Christian Post, more than 103,000 residents of the Key West area have signed a petition calling on Florida Governor Rick Scott, and the Chairman of the Florida Keys Mosquito Board, William J. Shaw, to halt plans to release the mosquitoes.
The residents are afraid of possible harmful effects of the mutant mosquitoes. The Inquisitr notes that some residents are afraid that the mutant mosquitoes could mutate and upset the fragile ecosystem or even cause direct harm to human beings.
WKMG-TV Local 6 reports that Mila de Mier, a resident who started the petition, expressed concern about the potential consequences of releasing an "experimental organism on a delicate ecosystem." She said, “The Florida Keys is a beautiful place, and it’s my home. We won’t be lab rats just so this company can make money. Oxitec says we have to do this to control mosquitoes, but it’s just not true. Other methods of mosquito control are working. We don’t need to gamble with mutant mosquitoes.”
The Christian Post reports that de Mier, on her Change.org website, urged FDA to reject Oxitec's application for an "animal bug" patent.
According to The Christian Post, de Mier wrote on Change.org: "Nearly all experiments with genetically-modified crops have eventually resulted in unintended consequences: superweeds more resistant to herbicides, mutated and resistant insects also collateral damage to ecosystems... Why would we not expect GM (genetically modified) insects, especially those that bite humans, to have similar unintended negative consequences?"
She told KeysNet.com, "I hate mosquitoes and my kids get bit. At first I thought this seemed like a good idea. But the more questions we ask, the more questions we have. I don't want my family to be guinea pigs. We need to look at the bigger picture of the environment, and think about what could happen if something goes wrong."
The Inquisitr notes that some of the signatures supporting the petition are from people living outside the Key West area.
Broward Palm Beach, however, expresses support for the plan to release the mutant mosquitoes. So confident is the website that the plan will work that it attacks de Mier, describing her as a "vocal rabble-rouser" and accuses websites such as Mother Jones and the New Yorker of inciting the local people to fear.
The website accuses residents of being unable to shed "old taboos that most people conjure when they hear the words genetically modified." The website acknowledges, however, that there are numerous concerns that Oxitec hasn't been forthcoming with relevant data that shows its mutant mosquitoes are safe. The website also accuses environmental groups, such as Friends of the Earth, of obstructing Oxitec.
But Oxitec has said that the mutant mosquito is safe and that they are only going to release males which cannot bite and therefore cannot spread any diseases. According to Oxitec, only female mosquitoes bite so there are no risks that the male will have harmful effect.
Florida Today reports that Oxitec argues that the method they are adopting to eradicate Dengue is more environmentally friendly than use of pesticides and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found the approach “environmentally preferable” to available alternatives.
But residents insist that current methods of mosquito control are effective, and point to the fact that there have been no cases of Dengue fever in recent years.