A legal challenge puts the brakes on plans to release genetically modified mosquitoes in West Bay.
Tens of thousands of GMO aedis aegypti mosquitoes were ready to be released this morning, instead, they’re now being destroyed.
The MRCU had been hoping the mosquitoes would fight the growing public health risk posed by the Zika virus. Critics and skeptics, on the other hand, welcome the delay imposed by a court Wednesday night (13 July).
“I think it’s very regrettable that the project has been stayed, that we have this delay in the release of the genetically modified mosquito, I think it is regrettable,” said MRCU Director Dr. Bill Petrie.
Dr. Petrie told Cayman 27 a court-imposed delay on its plans to release genetically modified mosquitoes to combat the mosquito that carries Zika and other diseases is putting the public at risk.
“We are hopeful that it will be a short delay and that we can get on with the project as soon as possible, especially given that we now have Zika in Cayman,” said Dr. Petrie. “We have our first two cases announced last week with the likelihood of more cases to come.”
Tens of thousands of mosquitoes were reared in preparation for what would have been the initial release of the so-called “friendly” aedis aegypti.
Instead, Oxitec Operations Manager Renaud Lacroix is putting the mosquitoes on ice to die.
“There’s a few batches going on and we already have a full releases worth today and next week as well, so all of that is going to be wasted,” said Mr. Lacroix.
A group calling itself “Caymanians United to Suspend the GM Mosquito Project” applied to the court for judicial review, based on technicalities in the regulatory process. Late Wednesday night, a judge granted the stay.
The group’s leader, Dwene Ebanks, who peppered MRCU and Oxitec representatives with several questions at a public meeting about the GMO project on may 25th, told Cayman 27 he’s pleased the stay was granted, but admitted it’s just a first step.
“They have the right to make a legal action, and we follow the rules from our point of view and we are sure we are on good grounds,” said Mr. Lacroix, who pointed out Oxitec projects have faced legal challenges before in its work in Brazil. That case, he said, ended with positive results for the company.
For their part, the MRCU and Oxitec said they will let the legal process take its course. In the meantime, the hope is that delays don’t jeopardize the public health.
“The longer we go into the rainy season with the increase in numbers of aedis aegypti in the wild, the more at risk we will be,” said Dr. Petrie.
The MRCU said a lengthy delay in the project could make it more difficult to control the aedis aegypti mosquito, mainly because as the rainy season progresses, there are more mosquitoes to fight.
The MRCU couldn’t put a dollar figure on the batches of GMO males that have been wasted, but told Cayman 27 their permit to operate only accounts for the importation of a certain number of mosquitoes.
The judicial review is scheduled for Tuesday 19 July.