Delivering the week’s top organic food news
7.1.2020
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EPA Displays Alarming Lack of Transparency When Approving GE-Mosquitos, 1B+ Set to be Released in Florida and Texas


Corporations exhibiting tremendous influence as to how and when novel genetic engineering technologies get released into the public domain is continuing its very worrisome trend.

As we wrote about in May, the USDA is now incredulously allowing companies to self-determine whether their new GMO crops should be regulated or not.

Now, with very little transparency and no third-party analysis from independent scientists, the EPA has given the green light for the release of genetically-engineered mosquitos under a 2-year Experimental Use Permit. This would result in an estimated 1 billion new GE-mosquitos to be released across 6,600 acres in Florida and Texas.

The trial is intended to prove that these GE-mosquitos can dramatically decrease the local population of aedes aegypti — the mosquito species that transmits dengue fever, Zika and other diseases. Oxitec, the owner of the GE-mosquitos, believes that when a lethal gene is passed on to the female offspring, the female larvae will die before they are able to develop into biting adults. In theory, the population would eventually dwindle as the number of females shrink.

At the present moment, all attention is on the Florida Keys, where the state’s department of agriculture and consumer services has already approved this experimental trial. The only thing now standing in the way of 500M of these GE-mosquitos being set free is the 5-person Florida Keys Mosquito Control District board (MCB).

Needless to say, consumer and environmental groups are ramping up the pressure.

“We are trying to get the MCB to hold another hearing where independent scientists can review the data that Oxitec has submitted. The EPA approved this technology with no third-party, peer-reviewed study, and when we asked for its analysis of the mosquito, the agency gave us four pages of nothing to look at. The key pieces of information, on which they based their decision, were blacked out,” said Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the Center for Food Safety.

The manner in which the EPA has managed this approval has also alarmed the scientific community, whose profession relies on peer-reviewed studies to validate its work.

Jennifer Kuzma, PhD, the Goodnight-NCGSK Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, and co-founder and co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, recently co-authored an op-ed in The Boston Globe that was highly critical of the EPA’s process.

In her piece, she said,

– The EPA did not convene an independent, external scientific advisory panel to review Oxitec’s (safety and environmental) claim, the agency’s risk assessment was only made publicly available after their approval decision and we know of no peer-reviewed articles on this particular GM mosquito strain.

– The risks should not be assessed behind closed doors between technology developers and EPA employees. As designed, the EPA risk assessment process privileges private entities over the American public.

Barry Wray, executive director of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, has been organizing efforts in South Florida to oppose these experimental insects.

“We don’t need these GE-mosquitos, and we don’t see the desperation. Plus, there are alternatives, such as wolbachia and irradiated mosquitoes, that don’t carry the same concerns,” he said.

The biggest issue with the GE-mosquitos is assessing what could go wrong in 10 or 20 generations down the line and the impact that these GE-mosquitos could have on human and environmental health. Because once they are released into the wild, there is absolutely no going back.

And as we have seen in other areas of the world where governments have decided to move forward with this risky technology, the results have been disastrous.

Oxitec’s GE-mosquitos proved to be a failure in the Cayman Islands, unable to achieve its intended goals.

In Brazil, the company’s GE-mosquitos passed their genes to the next generation of native insects, something that was not supposed to happen and fueling concerns that they created a new and more robust hybrid species.

“The claim (from Oxitec) was that genes from the release strain would not get into the general population because offspring would die,’’ said Dr. Jeffrey Powell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University. “That obviously was not what happened.”

With GE-mosquitos expected to be released in Houston in early 2021, what happens in the Florida Keys is the immediate concern.

Barry Wray remains optimistic and hopes that he can at least convince the MCB to put this to a public referendum.

One way he intends to galvanize his local community and make them aware of the situation is by putting up large billboards in the next few days that say, “Welcome to the Florida Keys, Future Home of GM-Mosquitos.”

WHAT IS NOW BECOMING STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE

Just like we have been told the lie that we need GMOs to feed the world, this GE-mosquito is being pushed on us when it is completely unnecessary.

Equally as disturbing is that corporations have gained such control in our society that circumventing a transparent and independent approval process is not an aberration.

It is becoming the norm.

With gratitude,

Max Goldberg, Founder

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