Residents of the Florida Keys are up in arms over a plan to release genetically-modified (GM) mosquitoes in the Key Haven neighborhood and are trying to get the word out about the trial, which they say would make them “lab rats” in their own community.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the controversial study by U.K.-firm Oxitec earlier this month, amid renewed fears over mosquito transmission of the Zika virus.
“We need to help educate the public about the very real, scientifically based problems with this genetically modified mosquito release,” Mara Daly, who has been helping organize a protest at the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board meeting Tuesday afternoon, told the Miami Herald.
“We will be outside with signs protesting peacefully. I think this will be the opportunity for moms, teachers, nurses to have a voice,” Daly continued. “It’s to let them know there are concerns from people they have not heard from. Maybe the fat lady has already sung, I don’t know.”
Residents, like Daly, will have a chance to vote on November 8 on a non-binding referendum on the experiment, which would release anywhere from 20 to 100 GM mosquitoes per person on the island—but the Mosquito Control Board will have the final say, and only three of the five members have vowed to stand by the vote outcome.
“It’s about human rights—this can’t be pushed down our throats without consent,” Key West resident Mila de Mier, who launched a petition against the trial, told the Guardian. Reportedly, local lawns are already peppered with signs that say “no consent.”
Indeed, much is at stake. According to the Guardian, “If the trial goes well, the technology would be on track to commercial approval in the United States, opening a slice of the nation’s $14bn pest control market to the company. Globally, analysts predict Oxitec’s mosquito could bring in up to $400m in annual sales for its parent company, Intrexon.”
Although Oxitec has been working on developing the GM pests for over five years, the effort has been buoyed by the recent outbreak of Zika in the state, which as of Friday has had at least 369 confirmed cases.
The company, which has also developed GM species of apples and salmon, has already released the mosquitoes in Brazil, Panama, Malaysia, and the Cayman Islands. It has submitted applications to begin additional trials in Sri Lanka and India.
The trial may be “worth a try,” resident Andrea Spottswood told the Guardian, but “we don’t want to be the lab rats.”
Tuesday ‘s meeting begins at 3 pm at the Mosquito Board building at 503 107th St. in Marathon, Florida.