500,000,000 genetically modified mosquitoes
will be released in the Florida keys
175,000 per household over 12 months
The gene-spliced mosquitoes will include biting females, and YES, their bite carries unknown risks to your health.
Whether the bites turn out to actually be more toxic or allergenic, or if they are simply believed to be, this massive mosquito release threatens the future of tourism to the region. It could seriously damage our economy for years or decades to come.
The stated purpose of the release is to reduce the population of a small subset of natural mosquitoes by causing their female larvae to die. But based on past releases of mosquitoes by the same company, Oxitec, their technology probably won’t work at all.
Furthermore, even though Oxitec claimed that its mosquitoes would simply die out after the experiment was over, studies proved them wrong. They permanently altered the genetic makeup of natural mosquitoes, which could have serious consequences for health and the environment.
This is just one of the areas where Oxitec either got the science all wrong, or intentionally lied to the public and to government bodies.
Just to be clear, this dangerous release is not designed to reduce the general pest population or reduce the use of insecticide. And the technology is not designed for use in case of an outbreak of disease. The main beneficiary of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes is Oxitec, the company that takes our tax dollars to produce them.
There are other mosquito suppression strategies that consistently work better, and do not expose our health and environment to the potential dangers of genetic engineering.
If this dangerous and irresponsible release goes forward, everyone who lives in or visits the Florida Keys, and anyone who is eventually exposed to the genetically modified mosquitoes wherever they migrate, is part of an uncontrolled experiment—without their consent and without anyone’s ability to stop it. The only way to opt out is to make sure it never happens.
Say NO to Genetically Modified Mosquitoes.
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These mosquitoes could decimate tourism
Since the mosquitoes cannot be recalled, the Keys will forever be an icon of GMMs in a place where eco-tourism is the number one draw for tourist and represents near 50% of income derived in the Keys and the vast majority of local businesses in some way depend on the visitation of eco conscious visitors.
Consider this scenario:
If the saliva of genetically modified mosquitoes contains a new toxin or allergen, it might elicit mild or even deadly reactions. Since there are no human clinical trials and no public health surveillance related to the mosquito, the cause of any associated health problems could go unnoticed. It would require a large-scale outbreak of a serious reaction for health authorities to even mount an investigation, let alone consider the mosquito as a potential source.
Whether or not the GM mosquito actually causes harm, there is another problem that the authorities have surely overlooked. Suppose a girl who is vacationing on The Keys has a sudden onset of a serious health issue without an apparent cause. And suppose that her parents notice that she has also been bitten by mosquitoes. Now suppose that they draw the conclusion, correctly or incorrectly, that her condition is caused by the bite of a GM mosquito and that story is picked up by the media.
It doesn’t have to be a prominent media source for it to inspire some supermarket tabloid to dream up alarming headlines about the serious threat to American tourists by deadly engineered mosquitoes. The results could be disastrous for tourism.
The authorities in The Keys are not only gambling that genetically modified mosquitoes are safe (which cannot be guaranteed at this point), but also that no one draws the conclusion that they got harmed from being bitten by one. Who would want to vacation where a mosquito bite could lead to who knows what?
It’s the who-knows-what that is the main point here. No one knows. But because we understand that the generic process of genetic engineering process creates unpredictable and potentially dangerous changes, who in their right mind would release them?
Although GMO companies like to argue that GMOs with built-in sterility will not persist in the environment. This was already proven untrue with Oxitec’s Brazilian release. They permanently contaminated the gene pool. Thus, the threat of a real or perceived danger from the mosquitoes doesn’t go away.
We call upon the Tourism Development Council of the Keys and all
Key business leaders to demand that this release not go forward.
Genetically Modified Mosquitoes endanger our health
The most common result of genetic engineering is surprise side effects. The process itself causes massive collateral damage in the DNA, which can result in new or elevated toxins or allergens.
Our blood is exposed to mosquito saliva when we are bitten. If the saliva of genetically modified mosquitoes is altered, it might result in reactions for some individuals that are different than those triggered by natural mosquitoes.
Many people have also had the experience of swallowing insects accidentally. This is particularly the case for workers involved in the massive release of millions of insects, as is planned for these mosquitoes. Furthermore, mosquito larvae is found in water, which can find its way into drinking water for humans and animals. Any new or elevated toxins or allergens may therefore impact health through breathing or accidental consumption as well.
The process of producing Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes can easily promote antibiotic resistant bacteria. Infections that are resistant to antibiotics are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year, as well as otherwise unnecessary amputations. Oxitec soaks their mosquitoes and eggs in a bath of tetracycline, a commonly used antibiotic. There is a simple, quick and extremely low cost test to see if their lab and their mosquitoes are generating dangerous resistant pathogens. They have refused to conduct and/or publish the results of those tests.
Results of tests in Brazil verify that the local mosquito population now have genetic changes due to breeding with Oxitec’s genetically modified version. The result is a genome sequence that has never before existed in nature. The authors of the study point out that the new hybrid varieties might be harder to kill, might more easily harbor diseases, and might have what’s called hybrid vigor, which gives them a general survival advantage over the natural varieties.
Oxitec mosquitoes consistently fail
- Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitoes were introduced into the Cayman Islands, Brazil, Panama, and Malaysia (CORRECT?). They have failed in every trial where performance was objectively reported. The latest failure was in the Cayman in 2018.
- In the Cayman, Oxitec apparently manipulated data in order to claim that they achieved a 96% suppression of mosquitoes. Two independent evaluations sponsored by the government, however, showed quite the opposite. According to documents made public by Freedom of Information requests, it was made clear by Dr Alan Wheeler, chief scientist for the Cayman Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU), that there was no suppression of the insect population. The mosquito release was a dismal failure. Furthermore, the documents revealed a pattern of incompetence and lies promoted by Oxitec.
- When this information was made public, Oxitec fired their Cayman employees and quickly left the island.
- In Brazil, no independent performance reviews have been published. Ones that were published by scientists with apparent conflicts of interest have been called into question by principal investigators in the studies for not following scientific practices. These deviations allowed for data manipulation and are likely the reason why Oxitec claimed success.
- Oxitec’s mosquitoes have now been rejected by 3 of 4 countries where they have been tested.
Oxitec lies...over and over again
Oxitec has consistently made false claims about their mosquito release, even though their own data showed the opposite. They have even made such statements under oath to the US Senate. For example, they claimed:
- No Females are released
- All offspring die within 2 days
- GMMs cannot breed and hybridize with the wild mosquito population
All these have been proven false. In a July 14, 2020 webinar, after evidence was clearly established that their claims were false, they changed their story. Now they say, of course females were released. And that they expected their gene-spliced mosquitoes to hybridize with, and alter the genetic code of wild mosquitoes. But without any significant research to back it up, they now insist there is no risk.
Oxitec’s original contract with the Florida Keys
Mosquito Control District (FKMCD), made public by the efforts of our coalition, revealed that Oxitec would have total control of all publicly disclosed information. (They would select 3 of the 5 members of the communications board.) When this was exposed, that contract was abandoned. The new one is being kept secret.
The gene-altered mosquitoes pose a serious environmental risk
Scientists have raised major concerns that GM mosquitoes will create hybrid wild mosquitoes, which may worsen the spread of disease and be more resistant to insecticides than the original wild mosquitoes.
There are better and safer ways to suppress insects
Simple vigilant community outreach programs where professional mosquito abatement workers educate and partner with residents to assure breed sites (standing water) is dumped or treated with larvicides work globally in some of the poorest and most difficult conditions; yet, with one of the largest per capita expenditures on mosquito programs in the world, the FKMCD is not claiming success.
We urge them to get their act together in ways that don’t endanger our health, environment, economy, and future.
Many jurisdictions around the world have successfully implemented a natural program using a common insect bacteria call wolbachia.
This release could be just the first of many dangerous insects
Once a genetically modified insect is released, it opens a “Pandora’s box.” It’s not hard to imagine many companies lining up to release their new and improved version of mother nature. We don’t know the health or environmental impact of even one species, let alone what might happen with a wholesale replacement of our ecosystem. Each change created through genetic engineering carries a host of potential side effects. No one has done the research to give us any confidence to predict the outcome. And certainly we don’t know the implications of various genetically engineered insects interacting with each other.
The Environmental Protection Agency unfortunately has a history of making decisions that promote industry interests over the health of the public or the environment. With very little data in hand, and with the future of an ecosystem at stake, they irresponsibly gave a go ahead for what will amount to an irreversible corruption of the gene pool.
All future generations may be damaged by the folly of our choices now.
Let’s protect them, us, and our community.
Say no to genetically modified mosquitoes.
A revealing conversation with an Oxitec scientist...
A chance encounter by Jeffrey Smith, Founding Executive Director of The Institute for Responsible Technology and author of the international bestseller Seeds of Deception, and Genetic Roulette.
In January 2014, I testified at the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, opposing their planned release of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes. Also testifying was Derric Nimmo, a principal scientist at Oxitec, the UK company that produces the mosquitoes.
Oxitec had already conducted limited releases with millions of genetically engineered Aedis Aegypti mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands, Brazil, Panama, and Malaysia. Male GM insects were engineered to mate with natural females and produce offspring that die before the larvae reach adulthood. Their plan was to reduce the population and thereby lower the incidence of dengue and other diseases that this type of mosquito carries.
The company had widely publicized that they were only releasing males, which don’t bite. But it turns out that their method of sorting males from females is flawed, and thousands of biting female mosquitoes are released.
In addition, their method to kill off all the larvae is also flawed. Between 3%-18% of the offspring survive and prosper.[ii] This can easily translate into millions of biting females, born from a genetically engineered family tree.
After the Florida hearing was over, I spoke with Derric in a nearby office. I told him it was a crazy idea to release genetically engineered insects in the wild. The GM offspring that survived would mate with other mosquitoes, and their offspring with others. Lab-created genes would be passed down, generation to generation, and permanently alter the gene pool in unpredictable ways. His mosquitoes could create problems that all future generations would have to wrestle with.
Derric was adamant that there was absolutely no way that his mosquitoes, or their genetic material, would survive long term. He insisted that with such a low survival rate, once the experimental release was finished, the GM mosquitoes would disappear without a trace. There was no way that his release would have a lasting impact on the genome of the species. We argued this for a while, then agreed to disagree.
Unfortunately, I was right.
A 2019 study in Brazil confirmed the devastating truth. In multiple samples collected for three years following the release of Oxitec’s GM mosquito, they found evidence of widespread genetic contamination.[iii] The natural mosquito DNA got mixed up with the GM mosquito’s and the gene pool will never be the same.
There’s plenty of ways that such a permanently altered genome might come back to bite us, but let’s just leave that one alone for the time being and remember what Derric said to me.
A principle scientist at the company that produces genetically engineered mosquitoes was unwilling to even entertain the idea that the genetic sequences they cobbled together in a lab could persist in nature. He figured they might last for a few days after release. Now we know they can be passed from generation to generation, perhaps for centuries.
What else does this company, which is playing God with mosquitoes, not know?
I asked Derric if they ever analyzed the saliva from their GM mosquitoes, since its saliva enters the bloodstream of the people they bite. He said that the company was just now doing research to see if the protein produced by the inserted gene was found in the saliva.
Let me take a moment to explain the gravity of this revelation. Oxitec had, by this time, exposed the population of four countries to hundreds of millions of released GM mosquitoes. The saliva from the biting females had already entered the bloodstream of perhaps thousands of people. And Oxitec had not once looked to see if the genes that they inserted into their mosquitoes produced an alien protein that transferred from the insects’ saliva to the veins of humans.
But that’s not all they overlooked.
I explained to Derric something that apparently he was unaware of. The process of genetic engineering creates massive collateral damage. Genetic sequences can get scrambled, unintended genes can accidentally get switched on or off, or change the level of activity.[iv] I told him about one study,[v] conducted on a human cell, that demonstrated the concern. After they successfully inserted a new gene, they checked to see of the process had an influence on the expression of other genes in the cell. To their surprise, the activity of up to five percent of the other genes were changed. This means that when you insert a single gene you can accidentally alter the behavior of hundreds or thousands of other genes. The danger is clear. Any of these genes may produce new or elevated toxins, allergens, or carcinogens. I asked Derric, “Shouldn’t your company analyze everything in the saliva to see what else has changed, and not just look for the presence of a single new protein?”
Derric responded with two words I will never forget. “Good idea.”
Oxitec has still not published a study showing the complete differences in the saliva composition. Or whether their insects, which are drenched in tetracycline in the lab, will create antibiotic-resistant infections that are difficult or impossible to treat. Or whether people might get allergic reactions if they breath in and swallow the mosquitoes. Or whether our dogs, who drink the water where mosquito larvae float, will get sick. Or any of numerous tests that should be absolutely mandatory before a company ever considers risking the health of an entire population and permanently changing the gene pool of a species.
I’ll go a step further.
- Because the most common result of genetic engineering is surprise side effects;
- Because there’s far more that we don’t know about the impacts of the technology than we do;
- Because the products of these mosquitoes will get inside our bloodstream, our lungs, and our stomachs;
- Because there is no technology on earth to recall them once they’re released, or to purify a corrupted gene pool once contaminated; and
- Because any small mistake can haunt all future generations;
I propose that at this time no one should have the right to conduct this sort of experiment. EPA approval or not. Public consent or not. Our understanding of the science is just not there yet.
And based on my conversation with Derric Nimmo, the understanding of the scientists who work at Oxitec is not there yet either.
 Can GM mosquitoes rid the world of a major killer?, The Guardian, July 14, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jul/15/gm-mosquitoes-dengue-fever-feature
[ii] D. Nimmo, P. Gray and G. Labbé, Eliminating tetracycline contamination, Oxitech document, http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/f61380_c3507de660064939a8071d5db1e29b72.pdf
[iii] Evans, B.R., Kotsakiozi, P., Costa-da-Silva, A.L. et al. Transgenic Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes Transfer Genes into a Natural Population.Sci Rep 9, 13047 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-49660-6
[iv] See for example: Mesnage R, Agapito-Tenfen S, Vilperte V, Renney G, Ward M, Séralini GE, Antoniou M (2016) An integrated multi-omics analysis of the NK603 Roundup-tolerant GM maize reveals metabolism disturbances caused by the transformation process. Sci Rep 6:37855 https://www.nature.com/articles/srep37855; and Zolla, L. et al. 2008. Proteomics as a Complementary Tool for Identifying Unintended Side Effects Occurring in Transgenic Maize Seeds As a Result of Genetic Modifications. Journal of Proteome Research, 7: 1850-1861. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18393457 ; and Barbara Keeler, “News Column,” Whole Life Times, August 2000, evidence from Monsanto’s own GMO soybean study revealed an unexpectedly high amount of trypsin inhibitor in cooked samples. They did not include this in their study, but the information was discovered in the Journal archives by Keeler; Monsanto’s study: StephenR Padgette et al,“The Composition of Glyphosate-Tolerant Soybean Seeds Is Equivalent to that of Conventional Soybeans,” The Journal of Nutrition 126, no. 4, (April 1996); including data in the journal archives from the same study; See also A. Pusztai and S. Bardocz, “GMO in animal nutrition: potential benefits and risks,” Chapter 17, Biology of Nutrition in Growing Animals, R. Mosenthin, J. Zentek and T. Zebrowska (Eds.) Elsevier, October 2005; and Claire Robinson, CRISPR-induced mutations – what do they mean for food safety?, GMWatch, June 1, 2017, http://gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/17657-crispr-induced-mutations-what-do-they-mean-for-food-safety; and Shin HY, Wang C, Lee HK, Yoo KH, Zeng X, Kuhns T, Yang CM, Mohr T, Liu C and L Hennighausen. 2017. CRISPR/Cas9 targeting events cause complex deletions and insertions at 17 sites in the mouse genome. Nature Communications, 8:15464.At: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15464.pdf; and Mou H et al. (2017). CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing induces exon skipping by alternative splicing or exon deletion. Genome Biology 18:108. DOI: 10.1186/s13059-017-1237-8, https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-017-1237-8
[v] Srivastava, et al, “Pharmacogenomics of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) and the cystic fibrosis drug CPX using genome microarray analysis,” Mol Med. 5, no. 11(Nov 1999):753–67. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2230479/
Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes - Coming Soon to Florida and Texas?
This briefing summarizes what is known about Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitoes, risks to human health and the environment and safer alternatives for addressing mosquitoborne diseases. It discusses the major concerns that GE mosquitoes could create hybrid wild mosquitoes and could worsen the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. It also reveals
the negative impacts GE mosquitoes may have on animals, including endangered or threatened species, as well as broader ecosystems.
Stop the release!
- SIGN THE PETITION calling for proper Monroe County disclosure to all residents and demand a referendum, where we all get to vote. Please keep in mind no one knows where the tests will be, and it could very likely be in your neighborhood.
- CONTRIBUTE to this cause. Oxitec has spent millions in marketing to dupe the public, but refuses to have a head to head debate with local experts and world renowned scientist who object to this release preferring to only tell the public about their side of the story.