The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District will hold a public meeting this month to explain why the agency is moving forward with a plan to release genetically-modified mosquitoes on Key Haven.
The district planned to hold the meeting Tuesday evening at agency's headquarters on Stock Island, but it has been postponed until later this month because agency executive director Michael Doyle had to leave town Thursday evening for a family medical emergency and may not be returning until after Tuesday, agency spokeswoman Beth Ranson said. The meeting will still happen this month, she said.
Mosquito Control has partnered with the British-based Oxitec on plans to release millions of genetically-engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes on Key Haven.
If approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Oxitec would release hundreds of thousands of genetically-engineered male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes a week for as long as 22 months. Males do not bite and their only job is to mate with females, dying shortly afterward. However, a small number of females could accidentally be released, Oxitec officials said.
The Centers for Disease Control and the FDA did give approval of the importation of eggs of genetically modified mosquitoes, which were brought to the United States and briefly stored in a lab at the mosquito control offices in Marathon while the two government agencies inspected the facility. The bugs' eggs have since been destroyed.
Oxitec, founded in 2002, found a way to genetically modify male mosquitoes to make them "sterile," so when they are released and mate with female mosquitoes in the wild, the offspring die in the larval stage.
Mosquito Control is intentionally holding the meeting without Oxitec representatives being there, as Doyle wants to explain solely the district's motives for the test release.
"We are looking at every possible tool," Ranson said. "We are constantly looking at new ways to fight Aedes aegypti."
Mosquito Control is targeting Aedes aegypti mosquitoes because they are the ones that carry the painful and potentially deadly tropical diseases, dengue fever and chikungunya.
However, those in opposition to the plan reminded mosquito control and Oxitec representatives that there has not been a documented case of dengue fever since 2010 and there has never been one of chikungunya.
"There is no dengue fever being reported now," said Michael Welber of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition. "Why are they doing it in this location? It makes no sense ..... This will not stop the (aerial) spraying."
In 2009 and 2010, there was a small outbreak of dengue fever in Key West, 93 reported cases with no deaths associated with the disease.
"We don't want to have another outbreak," Ranson said.
Opponents of the release were also quick to point out that Oxitec may have significantly lowered the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in places like Brazil and in the Cayman Islands, but it did not eradicate dengue fever
Welber argued mosquito control should be more focused on working with residents and businesses to dump out free standing water, where Aedes aegypti like to congregate around.
The meeting comes in the wake of several national and international newspaper, magazine and television reports on the Key Haven test release. Several groups opposed to the use of genetically-modified organisms have released statements in opposition to the release.