The FDA is about to complete the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.
Earlier this month, the FDA made available a draft environmental assessment predicting that the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes in Key Haven, Florida, would have “no significant impact”—which means that the approval for their release is imminent.
The FDA’s determination is based largely on data submitted by Oxitec, the company producing the GM mosquitoes.
The stated purpose of this experiment—and make no mistake, this is all wildly experimental, and widely criticized—is to eradicate mosquito populations that are responsible for spreading diseases like dengue fever and Zika. The idea is this: genetically engineered male mosquitoes released into the wild breed with disease-carrying mosquitoes, resulting in offspring that die before they are able to breed.
This is a terrible idea for a number of reasons.
First, concerns have been raised that the Zika outbreak may be linked to the release of Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes in Brazil three years ago, which was also done for the purpose of combating dengue fever. Some critics of the GM mosquitoes speculate that the presence of the antibiotic tetracycline in the environment could override the genetically modified DNA in the mosquitoes, resulting in increased survival rates of the disease-carrying insects.
Additionally, a recent study showed that the GM mosquitoes released in Brazil did not, in fact, lead to a drop in dengue fever. The number of mosquito eggs fell by an impressive 92% in the city of Jacobina in eastern Brazil—but it did not lead to a drop in the incidence of dengue itself.
Other concerns have also been raised:
- The Aedes aegypti mosquito is not native to the Keys. Will the more virulent Asian tiger mosquito, which also carries dengue fever, fill the void left by the reductions in numbers of aegypti? Will the dengue virus mutate (think antibiotic-resistant MRSA) and become even more dangerous?
- How will the genetically modified mosquitoes affect the bat population that relies on them for food? Bats are an exceptionally important part of most natural systems, and other animals could be affected as well.
- Where are the peer-reviewed safety studies to support Oxitec’s safety claims? What evidence led the FDA to deem this new population of mosquitoes to be ecologically safe? The FDA has not been at all transparent about their clinical trial for safety. And, as noted above, the FDA’s determination is based almost exclusively on Oxitec’s analysis.
This is the same crony scenario we’ve seen played out countless times. The FDA approves elaborate science-fiction experiments to combat diseases that can be treated with safer, more affordable natural health options. Why? Because natural alternatives compete with pharmaceutical drugs and large biotech companies like Oxitec.