The Food and Drug Administration on Friday cleared the way for genetically modified mosquitoes to be released in Key Haven, the tiny affluent island east of Key West that bitterly opposed the project.
In their decision, FDA officials concluded that a field trial would not significantly harm the environment in the region. The agency said it made the decision after reviewing thousands of public comments. Whether to go forward with the trials now goes to a countywide referendum set for the November election.
We are now looking forward to working with the community in the Florida Keys moving forward.
Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry
“We’re delighted with the announcement today that the FDA, after their extensive review of our dossier and thousands of public comments for a trial in the Florida Keys, have published their final view that this will not have a significant impact on the environment,” Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry said in a statement. “We are now looking forward to working with the community in the Florida Keys moving forward.”
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Millions of Oxitec’s modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have already been released in Brazil, where Parry said a study completed in the last month by local officials showed a significant decrease in dengue in a study area. Trials are also being performed in the Cayman Islands and Panama. Tests in those countries also showed mosquito populations cut by 90 percent, Parry said.
“If you look at mosquito control for the last few decades, people have been using insecticides and no insecticide treatment, not a single result, has come anywhere near the controls we’ve achieved,” Parry said.
The news comes at a critical time in Florida where health officials have confirmed 16 locally transmitted cases of Zika, a virus carried by the mosquito. But many hurdles and months remain before the mosquitoes can be deployed. In addition to field trials, the FDA said Oxitec will still need to meet all local, state and federal requirements. The company has already built a lab in Marathon to breed sterile male mosquitoes, which mate with wild female mosquitoes to produce offspring that die before they can become adults.
The project faced fierce opposition from residents, who organized a petition and collected 160,000 signatures from across the country.
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich