Fighting Mosquitoes with GMO Mosquitoes

"Approving this kind of open air experiment without a comprehensive environmental impact statement is dangerously short-sighted," Jo Miles writes.

Fighting Mosquitoes with GMO Mosquitoes

A biotech company wants to unleash genetically engineered mosquitoes in Florida – but their plan could do as much harm as good.

Genetic engineering isn't just changing what's in your food. A company called Oxitec has created a genetically engineered (GMO) mosquito, and they want to release millions of them into a community in the Florida Keys. The problem they're trying to solve with these GMO bugs is real, but in this case, the cure might be as bad as the disease.

The Food and Drug Administration is asking for input right now on whether to approve this project. Tell them to reject GMO mosquitoes!

Why GMO Mosquitoes?

Local governments in places like the Florida Keys are always looking for ways to control mosquito populations, especially where mosquitoes spread disease. Oxitec's GMO mosquito is intended to help prevent the spread of dengue fever. They've also proposed that their mosquitoes could help fight the Zika virus. The idea is that the offspring of the GMO mosquito will die, reducing overall populations.

What's Wrong with the GMO Mosquito Plan

Unfortunately, there's many questions about whether Oxitec's plan will work. A study in Panama demonstrated that if this genetically engineered species of mosquito dies off as intended, then another species of mosquito that carries West Nile virus and dengue fever could swiftly take over, worsening the very problem it was supposed to solve.

What's more, an uncontrolled release of a genetically engineered species into the environment could bring an assortment of unanticipated complications. What happens to animals that eat the GMO mosquitoes? What if the GMO mosquitoes don't actually die off? Approving this kind of open air experiment without a comprehensive environmental impact statement is dangerously short-sighted. There is no way to undo a release like this.

Despite strong opposition from local communities and thousands of comments against moving forward with this plan -- and without conducting a comprehensive environmental impact review -- the FDA reached a preliminary finding of "no significant impact" for releasing these GMO mosquitoes. But they can't know that. The risks of introducing these GMO mosquitoes are too great, and there are too many unknowns regarding how they will affect our communities and our environment.

FDA is accepting public comments on this draft finding until April 13, and it's critical that we call for a full environmental impact statement to be completed, instead of the less rigorous "assessment" based on company-supplied data that's been done so far.

Releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes into the wild is a bad idea. Tell the FDA to rethink its plan and reject GMO mosquitoes.

© 2021 Food & Water Watch