MONROE COUNTY, Fla — (Editor's Note: The video above is from a previous report)
The state of Florida has given the green light to Oxitec, a U-K biotechnology company, to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in Monroe County starting this Spring.
It’s a controversial pilot program that began in the Florida Keys in 2021 to evaluate the effectiveness of Oxitec mosquitoes to control the invasive, disease-spreading Aedes aegypti mosquito.
According to an email obtained by First Coast News, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) approved extending the experimental use permit on Tuesday. The department says it does not and will not be making a formal announcement related to the issuance of any pesticide registration.
“Yesterday, FDACS authorized the distribution and experimental use of OX5034 AEDES AEGYPTI (EPA EUP NO. 93617-EUP-2) in Florida,” an email from the Division of Agricultural Environmental Services read.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has been working with Oxitec on field trials. Since 2021, millions of genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been strategically released in Monroe County as part of the Oxitec Mosquito Project.
In March, the EPA approved the release of 2.4 billion more in Monroe County and California over the next two years under an experimental use permit. Oxitec had to get approval from each state before proceeding. The mosquitoes are designed to kill biting females before they mature.
“The male mosquitoes, they don't bite," said Chad Huff with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. "They never take a blood meal from a human at all. They survive on nectar. They don't even have the mouth parts that make it able to take blood. It's really just using the instinctive knowledge of the male mosquito and finding a female, and then limiting the number of offspring that those females are able to have.”
Groups like Friends of the Earth have been calling for more transparency and independent, third-party reviews of the trials before any more mosquitoes are released.
“Poorly done, secretive science and lack of transparency is once again being rewarded with a free pass by government officials who are ignoring the voices of concerned scientists and those most impacted.” said Dana Perls, Emerging Technology Program Manager at Friends of the Earth. “First in Brazil, and now in Florida, government agencies have missed the mark and promoted the interests of a private corporation over public health and ecosystem protection.”
According to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District – Oxitec Mosquito Project website, the 2022 project is expected to launch the week of May 9 with the placement of Oxitec’s just-add-water mosquito boxes on private property of volunteer residents in three release areas on Vaca Key.
Untreated comparison sites will be monitored with mosquito traps on Key Colony Beach and Vaca Key. Officials say demand to participate has been high, with the project now oversubscribed and waitlists established.
Grey Frandsen, CEO of Oxitec, said, “We’re immensely grateful to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and to the communities who have welcomed us in the Keys. We look forward to continuing this important work with our world-class partners in Florida to deliver accessible, effective, and environmentally friendly solutions to address the growing threat of invasive, disease-carrying mosquitoes.”