Florida starts a controversial project this week, releasing thousands of genetically modified mosquitos to combat a disease-spreading species of the insect.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the project for “experimental use” in May 2020 to determine whether genetically modified mosquitoes are a viable pest control alternative to insecticide spraying.

Female Aedes aegypti mosquitos are believed to be the primary carriers of various infectious diseases, including Dengue fever and Zika. The genetically modified non-biting male mosquitos will mate with female mosquitos in hopes that their offspring will not survive.

“The female offspring of these encounters cannot survive, and the population of Aedes aegypti is subsequently controlled,” British biotech company Oxitec said in a statement.

According to the New York Post, the genetically modified pests will be released in six locations in the Florida Keys over the next 12 weeks, with 12,000 expected to take to the air each week.

 

The project has been in the process for many years. A referendum allowing for the mosquito release was approved by nearly 60% of Keys voters in 2016. There was, however, opposition.

Last year, Oxitec was granted the green light to proceed with its first trial after months of testing and approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, according to WTSP.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, according to Oxitec, makes up just 4% of the mosquito population in the Florida Keys, but it is responsible for nearly all mosquito-borne diseases that are transmitted to humans.

However, not everyone in the Florida Keys is happy about the increased mosquito population. The proposal has been opposed by a number of residents and environmental advocacy organizations.

Mara Daly, a Key Largo resident who has been protesting the project for years, is concerned that it will affect both people and the environment. “Why do they not perform a simple test to satisfy locals who are forced to be part of this project trial?” Daly questioned.

When the proposal was first approved, Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, said in a statement “The administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment.”

“What could possibly go wrong? We don’t know, because EPA unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks, now without further review of the risks, the experiment can proceed,” Hanson added.

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