Grass roots fight against lab-made bug release

Posted at 5:51 PM, May 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-18 18:47:37-04

KEY HAVEN, Fla.-Beth Eliot lives in Key Haven, a neighborhood of about 450 homes just north of Key West. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has proposed releasing genetically modified mosquitoes there in an effort to fight the Zika virus.

"We think there are too many risks, too many unknowns," Eliot said.

The lab-created bugs are the product of British bio-tech company Oxitec, which would plan to release only males. The idea is that they would mate with females of the species that can carry Zika, to produce offspring which would not survive.

"They have not been publicizing the fact that a percentage of females do get released into the environment, and those females are biting females," Eliot said.

She said that many people in her neighborhood have posted signs saying "No consent to release of genetically modified mosquitoes." It's part of a grass-roots effort to block the release of the bugs.

"It's pretty clear that the neighborhood of Key Haven is opposed to this experimental release," Eliot said.

But could such an experiment happen in Southwest Florida? Patrick Linn, who heads the Collier County Mosquito Control District, said they have no plans to introduce Oxitec's mosquitoes there.

"We are going to be very interested to see what sorts of results the Keys get, if they are allowed to go forward with that program," Linn said.

The issue will most likely be put to voters throughout the Keys on the August ballot.

"I believe the population of the Florida Keys is 85,000," Eliot said. "And most of these people don't have the full education that we've been able to obtain over the last few years."

A preliminary study by the Food and Drug Administration said that releasing the genetically modified mosquitoes would have no significant impact on the environment.