(CNN)A plan to release over 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022 received final approval from local authorities, against the objection of many local residents and a coalition of environmental advocacy groups. The proposal had already won state and federal approval.
750 million genetically engineered mosquitoes approved for release in Florida Keys
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"With all the urgent crises facing our nation and the State of Florida — the Covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, climate change — the administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment," said Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, in a statement released Wednesday.
"Now the Monroe County Mosquito Control District has given the final permission needed. What could possibly go wrong? We don't know, because EPA unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks, now without further review of the risks, the experiment can proceed," she added.
Approved by the Environment Protection Agency in May, the pilot project is designed to test if a genetically modified mosquito is a viable alternative to spraying insecticides to control the Aedes aegypti. It's a species of mosquito that carries several deadly diseases, such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
The mosquito, named OX5034, has been altered to produce female offspring that die in the larval stage, well before hatching and growing large enough to bite and spread disease. Only the female mosquito bites for blood, which she needs to mature her eggs. Males feed only on nectar, and are thus not a carrier for disease.
The mosquito also won federal approval to be released into Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021, according to Oxitec, the US-owned, British-based company that developed the genetically modified organism (GMO).
The Environmental Protection Agency granted Oxitec's request after years of investigating the impact of the genetically altered mosquito on human and environmental health.
"This is an exciting development because it represents the ground-breaking work of hundreds of passionate people over more than a decade in multiple countries, all of whom want to protect communities from dengue, Zika, yellow fever, and other vector-borne diseases," Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen said in a statement at the time.
However, state and local approval for the Texas release has not been granted, said Sam Bissett, a communication specialist with Harris County Public Health.
"Local health officials confirm that there is no agreement in place or plans to move forward with the project at this time," Bissett told CNN. "Our focus is on our efforts with the Covid-19 pandemic."
In June the state of Florida issued an Experimental Use Permit after seven state agencies unanimously approved the project. But it's taken over a decade to obtain that approval.