More than 57 percent of the 40,000 votes in Monroe County, Fla., voted in a nonbinding referendum on election day to go ahead with a test to release genetically modified organisms (GMO), specifically male mosquitoes, in Key Haven. British biotech firm Oxitec wants to test if the GMO mosquitoes will mate with the female mosquitoes carrying Zika virus, and eradicate them by preventing offspring.
On election day, “There were two precincts in the whole county that voted against the genetically modified mosquito,” said Phil Goodman, chairman of the FKMCD, according to WIRED. He said the district would continue with the trial run, but the board will try to work with U.S. Food & Drug Administration to find a different release site.
“We’ll be looking at where mosquitoes are, and come up with some other sites of where to release them based on where people voted yes,” he said.
The contentious November 19th Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) meeting was scheduled to rule on whether to go forward or abandon the project. Key Haven and other nearby residents and advocates spoke on a range of issues related to the testing. Those calling to abandon testing spoke about subjecting residents to testing of their bodies against their wills, how the public will be informed about the release, the five-year contract with Oxitec, the liabilities and environmental risks of the testing and the media coverage of a global Zika threat the World Health Organization said is over.
Some of the residents asked if the contract could be tabled until the District meets next month so that residents can review the accountability and liabilities of such a long-term contract.
Officials like Bob Eadie, JD, head of the Monroe County Health Department, urged the District to use every available tool to eradicate the health threats the spread of Zika virus poses. A bipartisan coalition of Florida politicians are in favor of the Oxitec trial. In September, it petitioned the federal government to grant an emergency use of Oxitec’s technology to areas affected by Zika.
Prior to the meeting, three of the five commissioners on the board have promised to decide in line with voters’ wishes.
A representative from Oxitec was also present at the FKMCD board meeting to answer questions.
While a new test site is yet to be selected, the board approved Oxitec’s contract for investigation in a 3-2 vote.