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Anti-GMO group launches new campaign against MRCU programme

The group behind last summer’s unsuccessful 11th hour legal challenge to the MRCU’s genetically modified mosquito programme is back with a new focus. An attorney representing the California group Institute for Responsible Technology said there are still unknown risks from the GMO project, and that safer and cheaper alternatives exist to combat the disease-carrying aedis aegypti mosquito.

At an invite-only presentation for members of the media Tuesday, HSM associate Kerrie Cox, on behalf of his client, the Institute for Responsible Technology, raised questions about government’s ongoing GMO mosquito control programme in West Bay.

“The question is, why haven’t we here in the Cayman Islands considered this alternative,” said Mr. Cox.

That alternative, he said, is the Eliminate Dengue Programme, which uses a type of bacteria called wolbachia to suppress the aedis aegypti population.

“The effect of it is that it paralyses the ability of those mosquitoes to transmit mosquito borne diseases,” explained Mr. Cox.

As a reaction to the MRCU’s announcement it’s likely to expand its so-called friendly aedis aegypti project, Mr. Cox said the group launched an informational website. It highlights the wolbachia alternative and explores a range of issues relating to Zika and microcephaly.

Mr. Cox said the group has plans to distribute its information to decision makers before any further rollout is permitted.

“What I’m hoping is, the National Conservation Council and members of government will look at the dossier, take an objective view, and perhaps even suggest, ok, there’s a point being made here, why don’t we try an alternative,” said Mr. Cox.

Mr. Cox also took a critical look back at the MRCU’s 2009 GMO trial, the world’s first open release of partner firm Oxitec’s technology, which he told reporters was permitted during a void in Cayman’s bio-safety laws.

“We would like to encourage government to become a signatory to the Cartagena convention on biosafety,” said Mr. Cox.

Mr. Cox said Cayman is one of only 25 countries in the world not to sign the Cartagena protocol, an international agreement that seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks of genetically modified organisms.

The website also questions the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly.

Meanwhile, the MRCU said it did consider the bacteria-based wolbachia technique to suppress the aedis aegypti mosquito.

MRCU director Dr. Bill Petrie told Cayman 27 it presents some critical disadvantages when compared to Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquito. His main concern is that, unlike the Oxitec technique, once it’s introduced to the environment, there’s no turning back.

“[Wolbachia] is not self limiting. If for any reason in the process you wish to, you said, ok, either this is not working, or we don’t like the technique or outcome, we are going to put a stop to it, it’s too late. Once you release the wolbachia, you can’t stop it,” said Dr. Petrie.

About the author

Joseph Avary

Joseph Avary

Joe Avary joined the Cayman 27 team in January 2014, bringing nearly two decades of experience in TV news to the islands. He spends his time away from the office scuba diving, practicing yoga, and trying to make his friends laugh at his comedic stylings. He proudly calls the district of West Bay home, and loves nothing more than relaxing visits to the Sister Islands.

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