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Home / Local News / Bush: Halt genetically modified mosquito release

Bush: Halt genetically modified mosquito release

Suspend GMM project petition grows to 618 signatures

West Bay MLA’s were among the first to learn about new mosquito controls as part of a community engagement initiative which started last month. Back l-r: Dr Bill Petrie, MRCU; Dr Renaud Lacroix, Oxitec; Glen Slade, Oxitec. Front l-r: MLAs Hon Tara Rivers, Capt Eugene Ebanks, Bernie Bush, Hon McKeeva Bush.
West Bay MLA’s were among the first to learn about new mosquito controls as part of a community engagement initiative which started last month. Back l-r: Dr Bill Petrie, MRCU; Dr Renaud Lacroix, Oxitec; Glen Slade, Oxitec. Front l-r: MLAs Hon Tara Rivers, Capt Eugene Ebanks, Bernie Bush, Hon McKeeva Bush.

While Opposition Leader Hon McKeeva Bush acknowledges that something has to be done to keep Cayman Zika-free he says he does not agree with the release of 22 million genetically modified mosquitoes and is calling for the suspension of the release.

He contends that not enough public consultation and information about the Oxitec and Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) project is being shared and the public is running scared.

On Wednesday (8 June) the Opposition Leader, together with fellow West Bay MLAs Bernie Bush and Captain Eugene Ebanks, wrote to Premier Hon Alden McLaughlin, who is also Health Minister, to put the programme on hold.

“The Minister who is the Premier has not made any statement about it. I have spoken to him and he said we have to do something. I do now know what he is going to do, but certainly I am objecting and my letter (to him) says they do not go ahead with some 22 million mosquitoes in what is basically a central part of the district somewhat but what is normally a piece of West Bay South and West Bay West,” Mr Bush said as he spoke with The Cayman Reporter last Thursday (9 June) at the Legislative Assembly.

In his letter Mr Bush wrote that while the MLAs had given preliminary support from their first meeting with the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU), in the absence of any concerns at that time because constituents would not have known the intentions of the project then.

“New questions have now arisen and more public discontent has come to bear. There seems to be need for more scientific answers to scientific questions and we must ask for the above position to be adhered to, and that is, a hold put on the project,” the Opposition Leader wrote.

He said the Premier is yet to make a statement on the release, but he is not in support of the move to release the GMM especially given the public cry.

“People are complaining to us now, people are scared. They want to be certain as certain can be in such circumstances that 20 years from now, 15 years from now, even ten years that we would not be caught up in something we cannot change. We cannot be sure simply because of this kind of testing that we are doing,” Mr Bush argued.

The Premier has since responded to Mr Bush’s letter. He was also expected to address the issue in his presentation at the close of the budget debate in the LA on Friday (10 June).

Last month the MRCU partnered with the United Kingdom (UK)-based biotechnology company Oxitec to undertake new mosquito control measures in the Cayman Islands aimed at controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads diseases such as the Zika, Dengue and Yellow Fever viruses.

Premier McLaughlin announced the partnership in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, 5 May and said the project was “using pioneering science” and was “designed to fight the dangerous Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads Zika, dengue and chikungunya.”

Cayman, he said, was a pioneer as it was the first time the project was being conducted outside of Brazil “the epicentre of the present Zika outbreak.”

At present there is an ongoing petition being led by Dwene Ebanks calling for the suspension of the project. The petition, as of Friday (10 June) had 618 supporters.

The petition asks that Government “immediately postpone the release of any Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in our communities until all of our questions and concerns are answered publicly, which will allow us to be fully educated and assuaged of all fears related to this project. The release is scheduled to begin in the district of West Bay in June, 2016.”

The petition alleges that “in further research, we were able to ascertain that Oxitec had not been completely transparent to the Cayman Islands with its presentation of the facts, and now that new information is coming to light, there reasons for alarm.”

“Causing the most concern within the public is Oxitec’s admission of the sheer number of mosquitoes intended for release, Oxitec’s contradictory information regarding the effects and capabilities of those mutant mosquitoes that are proposed to be released within direct proximity to our homes and, perhaps most distressing is the concern that there is not substantial evidence to validate Oxitec claims that Genetically Modified Mosquitoes are harmless,” the petition states.

On Wednesday (4 May) Mr Bush; Minister for Education, Employment and Gender Affairs, Hon Tara Rivers; Bernie Bush and Capt Eugene Ebanks all met with members of MRCU and Oxitec to discuss the public information campaign in the district.

The Opposition Leader told The Cayman Reporter when the MLAs gave preliminary agreement to the project a public meeting was yet to be held and that meeting has since been held.

However, he contended that “certain things were not answered there and more and more information is coming up, scientific information.”

“While we need to kill the Zika mosquito we cannot play around with testing in this manner. You test a small area now you are testing thousands of people in one area and I do not believe the scientific questions are being answered,” he said.

As previously explained in a The Cayman Reporter article the GMM is an improvement of the Sterile Insect Technique which proved to be a successful method of biological insect control, whereby overwhelming numbers of sterile insects are released into the wild.

The released insects are normally male, as the females cause the damage usually by laying eggs in the crop, or, in the case of mosquitoes, taking blood from humans.  In the case of the GMM it utilises the “dominant lethal gene” which allows the sterile mosquito to mate with other female aedes aegypti, but because it is sterile, the larvae that is produced die at the fourth stage of gestation and never emerge as adults; thereby reducing the overall population and subsequent spread of viruses.

Mr Bush said being a layman be would rather more information be shared on the project before its release because “what I do know is that years ago we sat back and we allowed a pesticide to be used. We thought it was the best thing because it was killing mosquitoes, but it was also killing people too and we proved it and they had to stop at one point.”

In his letter to the Premier, Mr Bush pointed out, “We have given some more thought to the above subject and we have also listened to the various concerns of constituents on the matter. We must therefore ask that the intended project which is being discussed about the placement of millions of modified mosquitoes be put on hold until more public discussions and education have been completed and a more satisfactory assessment of risk can take place. Our people are concerned!”




About Reshma Ragoonath

Reshma Ragoonath is a Trinidadian journalist with over 15 years experience. She was previously employed as a Senior Reporter with the Sunday Guardian, after having spent a number of years at the Trinidad Guardian, San Fernando Bureau. She has worked as Head of News at Heritage Radio 101.7FM in Trinidad and was a part-time journalism and communication lecturer with the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTATT.) She holds an Associate Degree in Journalism and Public Relations and a Bachelor in Mass Communications from COSTAATT.

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