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Everything you need to know about the zika virus in South Florida.

In GMO Mosquito Debate, Both Sides Favor Switching Federal Agencies

Genetically modified mosquitoes are released in Brazil.

The company that wants to hold the first U.S. trial of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys and Keys residents who oppose the trial don't agree on much.

But representatives from both sides said Thursday they are happy with the recent announcement that federal oversight of the proposed trial will be moved from the Food and Drug Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We think it's a good thing," said Derric Nimmo, principal scientist at Oxitec, the company that has developed a genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The mosquitoes are modified to produce unviable offspring. The plan is to release male mosquitoes, which don't bite, though Oxitec scientists acknowledge a few females may make it through the filtering process.

Ed Russo, an outspoken opponent of the trial, said he favors EPA review.

"They have more stringent regulations" than the FDA, said Russo, who is president of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition. "Their focus will be on the overall impact that these genetically modified mosquitoes have on the environment, including the human environment."

Oxitec originally proposed holding the trial in the Key Haven neighborhood, about five miles from Key West. The FDA issued a finding of no significant impact in August of last year, clearing the way for the trial.

But local opposition, especially from Key Haven residents, led the Florida Keys Mosquito Control board to put the question on the November ballot. Residents of Key Haven voted against it, by 65 to 35 percent. But voters in the Keys as a whole approved it, by 58 to 42 percent.

The mosquito control board then agreed to move forward with the trial — just not in Key Haven. That meant Oxitec had to submit a new application to the FDA.

Nimmo said the company will now apply to the EPA, which was part of the inter-agency review team that assessed its original application.

"They're a different agency and they might have different questions and concerns," he said.

There's no timeline for the review process, but Nimmo said the company was estimating it would take four to six months.

This summer the Keys mosquito district conducted a first-in-Florida trial for another mosquito-fighting technology, releasing males infected with the Wolbachia bacteria. That trial was supported by many who oppose the genetically modified mosquitoes.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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