Last Friday, environmental and other public interest organizations filed a formal pre-litigation notice with the Trump Administration stating their intention to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its approval of the release of over a billion genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes in Florida and Texas. The open air experiment would be the first ever in the United States. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), EPA was required to consult the expert wildlife agencies on the potential impacts to protected species. Instead, the administration summarily dismissed any possible environmental risks in granting the approval.
“With all the urgent crises facing our nation—the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change—the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment, except without the island,” said Jaydee Hanson, policy director at the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety. “What could possibly go wrong? We don’t know, because they unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks.”
“The Florida Keys and Houston and the surrounding communities are home to some of the most diverse and threatened species in our country. Once again, the Trump administration is callously disregarding scientific experts and the will of communities to force this risky experiment through,” said Dana Perls, Program Manager, Food and Technology Campaign, Friends of the Earth U.S.
If EPA does not cure these violations within sixty days, the listed organizations intend to file suit against the responsible agencies and officials to enforce the ESA. The organizations are Center for Food Safety (CFS), Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, GMO Free USA, Foundation Earth, Friends of the Earth, and the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA).
On November 9, 2016, residents of Key Haven, Florida, the initial proposed release site of the GE mosquitoes, voted against the release of the insects, which were not adequately assessed for risk before being approved by the FDA. In 2017, residents of the Florida Keys again protested Oxitec’s application to EPA to release GE mosquitoes in their community. Now, in 2020, Florida Keys and Houston residents are protesting EPA’s approval of Oxitec’s Experimental Use Permit (EUP) to release more than a billion GE mosquitoes in their communities.
The lack of independent scientific research on the release of GE mosquitoes constitutes a most troubling factor in the drive to release hundreds of millions of these insects. While the desire to control mosquito-borne viral diseases like zika and dengue is understandable, Oxitec, the company manufacturing the GE mosquitoes, has not demonstrated that its release of the mosquitoes in Brazil, Cayman Islands, Panama, and Malaysia has reduced disease.
In addition to potential threats to endangered and protected species and sensitive ecosystems, and a lack of evidence to support the GE mosquitoes’ efficacy at minimizing the spread of disease, there is little information about what ingesting these insects could do to people. In Brazil, so many mosquitoes were released in the Oxitec trials (millions are released multiple times a week) that people complained of being forced to breathe in and eat mosquitoes.