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Home / Local News / Judges rules on GM mosquito project Monday

Judges rules on GM mosquito project Monday

Anti-Genetically Modified mosquitoes campaigner Dwene Ebanks, who is at the forefront of the legal challenge of the Oxitec and the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU)’s release of GM mosquitoes in West Bay.
Anti-Genetically Modified mosquitoes campaigner Dwene Ebanks, who is at the forefront of the legal challenge of the Oxitec and the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU)’s release of GM mosquitoes in West Bay.

Mozzies remain on ice as stay continued

Grand Court Judge Justice Ingrid Mangatal is expected to deliver her decision on Monday (25 July) on the legal challenge brought by anti-Genetically Modified mosquitoes campaigner Dwene Ebanks and the Caymanians United to Suspend GM Mosquitoes Project group.

Justice Managtal, after a marathon all-day hearing on Tuesday (19 July), reserved her decision in the judicial review application filed against the National Conservation Council (NCC) and ordered that the stay of execution prohibiting the release of the GM mosquitoes, also called mozzies, remain in place until then.

Last Wednesday (13 July) Mr Ebanks, through his attorneys at HSM, obtained a stay of execution mere hours ahead of the scheduled release of the mozzies in West Bay.

The stay effectively prevented Oxitec/Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) from releasing just over 75,000 GM mosquitoes. Those mosquitoes have since been destroyed and the project placed in a state of abeyance pending the outcome of Monday’s decision.

The project is aimed at controlling the invasive disease carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito which is the vector for a number of viruses namely the Zika virus, Dengue, Chikungunya and Yellow Fever.

At present Cayman officials have confirmed three cases of Zika, all of which were imported meaning the patients contracted the virus overseas before returning on island.

Last week Mr Ebanks, through his attorneys at HSM, filed for judicial review of the National Conservation Council’s decision to grant Oxitec and MRCU a permit authorising the release of the 22 million mozzies in West Bay.

Genetically modified mosquitoes being destroyed in the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) lab.
Genetically modified mosquitoes being destroyed in the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) lab.

He contended in his application that the NCC failed to carry out an independent risk assessment in order to properly make an informed decision to grant the permit.

The application also contended that the NCC 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.

This point was driven home by Queen’s Counsel Stephen Tromans, who led the legal team challenging the NCC’s decision.

He contended that the NCC’s decision was flawed and asked that it be quashed.

Solicitor General Jacqueline Wilson mounted the defense on behalf of the government agencies as she contended that there was public consultation on the project.

She also contended, according to media reports that no evidence was provided to support the challengers’ concern that the mozzies project posed any danger to the public.

Mr Ebanks has opposed the programme since it was first announced by Premier Hon Alden McLaughlin in May, and started a petition which garnered 672 supporters at last count.

The petition called for the immediate postponement of 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.”

Premier McLaughlin, addressing the legal challenge on Radio Cayman’s “For the Record” talk show on Monday (18 July), contended that the petition was “purely political.”

The Premier declared that Mr Ebanks, “has been a political candidate before. He is no doubt intending to be a political candidate again and he wants a platform from which to launch his campaign, but this is irresponsible to the highest extent.”

However, Mr Ebanks countered the Premier’s claims as he stated that, “when people cannot control you they try and control people’s perception of you. It is a very sad day in this country when the tenets of a good democracy are scoffed at and the genuine concerns and questions by lay citizens are ignored with an indifferent eye by its government and those elected to lead,” he contended.

He defended the steps he and his group took to challenge the release of mozzies.

“I have no plans at this time but to stop, to try and seek help from this abuse we feel in West Bay in this process,” Mr Ebanks contended.

Last week’s blocking of the release of the mozzies saw a number of visiting teams including PAHO officials, a visiting Japanese film crew and officials from the Jamaica Health Ministry leaving Cayman disappointed as they were unable to witness the innovative project release.

Jamaican Health Dr Christopher Tufton met with Premier McLaughlin last Wednesday and toured the MRCU, as well as, Health City.

The project forms part of on-going trials, recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), in the fight to control what has been described as a global public health emergencyconcerning the spread of the Zika virus.

The Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly in infants. Microcephaly refers to an abnormally small head and also causes significant brain abnormality and developmental difficulties in affected infants.

The MRCU has stated in the past that the Aedes aegypti mosquito is difficult to control as it has built a resistance to existing methods of control.





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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