McTaggart – Gov’t will incur significant costs with delay of mozzies project
All other mosquito control methods will now be have to ramped up to control the Zika virus with the Oxitec/Mosquito Research and Control Unit’s Genetically Modified mosquitoes (‘mozzies’) project now in state of abeyance.
“It (the Zika virus) is a national issue that we have to deal with and we need to employ every available weapon that we can,” declared Councillor for Health Roy McTaggart who lamented that with the innovative project now facing legal woes the price tag for not only the project, but other mosquito control methods will go up.
“Every weapon we have in our arsenal has to be deployed. Without having this method (the GM mosquitoes) we will have to step up using all of the other methods of control. It comes at a cost as the mosquitoes become more immune to the existing insecticide you use. As Dr (Bill) Petrie (of the MRCU) has said in the past the Aedes aegypti is one of the most difficult mosquitoes to control,” Mr McTaggart contended during an interview with The Cayman Reporter last Friday (15 July).
Anti-GM mosquito petitioner Dwene Ebanks through his attorneys secured a stay of execution from the Grand Court on Wednesday (13 July) evening putting a dent in Oxitex/MRCU’s planned release of the first batch of mozzies on Thursday (14 July) in West Bay.
Mr Ebanks had filed an application for judicial review of the National Conservation Council (NCC)’s decision to grant Oxitex/MRCU permission to release the 22 million mozzies. The matter is set for hearing on Tuesday.
He contended in his legal action, filed on behalf of his group Caymanians United Against GM Mosquitoes, that the NCC’s decision to grant the permit for the importation and release of up to 22 million mozzies was done in the absence of an independent risk assessment. This, he contended, meant that the NCC was unable to properly make an informed decision before granting the permit.
The NCC, according to the legal challenge, relied solely on a 2009 risk assessment which was written by Oxitec and supported by the MRCU and failed to consider Oxitec had a commercial interest and the risk assessment was not independent.
The affidavit also listed as a major concern that no proper consultation was held with affected residents before decision was taken to release the GM mosquitoes.
Thus far Cayman has two confirmed case of Zika, both of which were contracted outside of Cayman.
Mr McTaggart stressed that it was imperative that Cayman’s does everything to limit it (the virus).
“We just have to keep the effort up,” he said.
Mr McTaggart admitted that the legal action is a setback, but he was hopeful it would be a temporary setback and the entire project could be under threat.
“The programme runs for six months and it is supposed to cover the entire rainy season which is when the mosquitoes are at their highest levels and we are in the rainy season. Every day that we lose means that window of opportunity, that period is being shortened. It could have a potential effect on the whole programme and the success of it,” Mr McTaggart pointed out.
He also added all the mosquitoes, close to 100,000, will have to be destroyed and more breed which also has a monetary cost.
“You have Oxitec staff on island who have to sit down and do nothing until this is solved. It is a time consuming effort to breed the mosquitoes. There is a cost attached to it,” Mr McTaggart said.
The Councillor for Health said the effects of this programme are not immediate as the mosquitoes, when released, must breed and “there is a two to three week period before you see any effects.”
Those effects, he said, would also have to be measured to determine the success of the project. However he said the MRCU and Ministry staff believe the mosquitoes are an effective method of control.
“Strictly speaking it (the delay in the project) does have some potential impact on the population. This is just one weapon that we use to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the Zika virus. The MRCU has said it over the years that these mosquitoes have become immune to a lot of the existing methods, sprays and so on and it is becoming harder and harder to eradicate and to deal with these mosquitoes given all the diseases they carry,” Mr McTaggart lamented.
The ministry and the MRCU, he said, will continue with the same process that is being used now.
“They do visit homes, they are out looking for the breeding places of these mosquitoes. They continue the spraying of the mosquitoes, they use larvicides. Every other weapon will be used. It is just that this one showed so much promise that we were all excited about it that the potential effect of this one. We will just take it one day at a time,” he added.