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Groups Slam Feds for Weak Review of GMO Mosquito Risks

May 15, 2016
Center for Food Safety

FDA assessment of plan to release genetically engineered mosquitoes in Florida Keys inadequate.

WASHINGTON—Public health, food safety and environmental groups including Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth and the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct a new and more thorough review of the risks associated with releasing genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes. Biotech and pest control company Oxitec is urging the FDA to speed approval of a trial involving widespread release of GE mosquitoes in the Florida community of Key Haven. Oxitec’s application to the FDA does not claim that the release of the GE mosquitoes would cause the reduction of diseases such as Dengue or Zika. More than 270,000 people submitted comments to criticize the FDA’s review of Oxitec’s planned release of the GE mosquitoes in Key Haven.

In its formal review of the company’s application and environmental assessment, the FDA fails to evaluate key issues surrounding the releases, including safety to human health, potential for the experimental mosquitos to move out of testing areas, and whether or not large numbers of the GE mosquitoes will actually reduce the spread of diseases like West Nile, Dengue or Zika.

“Allowing the widespread release of potentially harmful genetically engineered insects before seeing the hard science is sheer negligence, especially when we’re talking about accidental ingestion,” said Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at Center for Food Safety.

Several national, state and local groups have submitted comments to FDA, specifically calling into question the lack of safety testing for human consumption of the mosquitoes. In many areas where the company has already released the GE mosquitoes, so many mosquitoes were released that people could not avoid breathing in and swallowing mosquitoes.

“The FDA really missed the mark on this one,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The agency seems so eager to speed the process along that they have failed to do a real review of the potential risks, and are ignoring widespread concern in the community where the release will happen.” 

The groups also flag the inadequacy of testing done to see how the modified mosquitoes will spread through the environment and what impact that will have on both local and regional ecosystems.

“FDA’s assessment is inadequate. GE mosquitoes would be virtually unregulated, and we don’t know how they would thrive in the wild and what the unintended consequences could be. They could cause more problems than solve,” said Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner with Friends of the Earth, U.S.

Local community members are particularly concerned about not having a voice in the issue.

“People here in Florida do not consent to the GE mosquitos or to being guinea pigs in a living lab for an experiment that hasn’t been properly vetted by the government. We are demanding sound science, not marketing hype. It is critical to prioritize the less risky, more environmentally sustainable, lower cost and natural alternatives,” said Barry Wray, Executive Director of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition.

Groups with members who submitted comments are Food and Water Watch, Center For Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition and Change.org.

Additional Resources

Comment letter

Oxitec Environmental Assessment

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