The Key West Citizen ran an editorial on Sunday (3/8) that makes an appeal to science as the reason to release genetically modified mosquitoes in Key Haven and, eventually, the Lower Keys to prevent a dengue fever outbreak.
While most reasonable people applaud the advances science has made in our society, including profoundly important medical discoveries, those same people know that strong ethical oversight must accompany good science.
Science provides important information but without ethical oversight and good sense we also get hydrogen bombs, sarin gas and thalidomide. The recent history of companies and, yes, the FDA rushing pharmaceuticals to market without proper testing, illustrates the need for caution. As the New York Times notes “…critics say that Oxitec…has rushed into field testing without sufficient review and public consultation, sometimes in countries with weak regulations.”
There are many unanswered questions about the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District’s intentions to release a mosquito injected with a synthetic protein based on E.coli and the Herpes Simplex virus. The Citizen’s claim that this is just like creating mules by crossing horses and donkeys is laughable.
The Citizen said that dengue infects over 50 million people a year but we know that there were only 27 confirmed cases of dengue fever here in 2009 and 61 in 2010 but none since. The kind of hysteria that The Citizen is trying to create is counterproductive.
Those of us who oppose the release out of caution have been attacked as being anti-science. Oxitec may be the one to attack. The company has not had a peer-reviewed study published in any scientific journal about their plan. We have to believe their studies about the effectiveness of their process and we all know where that leads. Our government relies upon food processors, for example, to police their production, because Congress has not funded inspectors. And so we get salmonella outbreaks.
The European Union relies upon The Precautionary Principle, which demands proof that an innovation is not broadly harmful to humans or our environment before it is deployed. We’d do well to apply this principle in the Keys.
The Mosquito Control Board will vote on its agreement with Oxitec on Monday of next week at its headquarters in Marathon. The session starts at 2 p.m. and, if you agree with the above, it would be important to attend to make your voice heard.