In a move that public health advocates are calling "irresponsible and frightening," the U.S. Food and Drug Association on Friday cleared the experimental release of genetically modified mosquitoes in Key Haven, Florida.
Pivoting off of the recent news that there is an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus that has infected over a dozen people in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, the UK-based developers of the genetically modified organism (GMO) reportedly also called on the FDA to grant emergency authorization to release the insects in Miami.
Oxitec, which produces other GMO products like "Arctic" apples and "AquaBounty" salmon, has developed what they describe as "self-limiting mosquitoes," genetically engineered to die before reaching adulthood.
As the company explains, Oxitec has genetically engineered male mosquitoes—known as OX513A males—which it will release into the wild to mate with native female Aedes aegypti, which bite and can potentially spread disease. Their offspring die off, reducing the population.
"Releasing GMO mosquitoes into the environment without long term environmental impact studies is irresponsible and frightening," said Zen Honeycutt, director of the anti-GMO group Moms Across America, in a statement on Saturday. "What about the creatures who eat the mosquitoes and all the life forms up the food chain? The impact could be irreversible... Allowing uncontrollable genetically altered life forms into the wild is not justified."
The Key Haven trial would run for between six and 22 months and the company said it could release anywhere from 20 to 100 mosquitoes per person on the island.
However, they must contend with strong local opposition first.
Residents of Key Haven will have the chance to vote in November on a non-binding ballot measure on the GMO trial, and a majority of the community's commissioners said they would abide by the will of the voters. And over 168,000 people have signed a petition calling on government officials to reject the trial.