Vote on GM mosquito trial is Nov. 19

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board is expected to decide Nov. 19 whether to go forward on a contract with biotech company Oxitec to release genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.

The initial proposed test site, the Lower Keys subdivision of Key Haven, is now off the table so commissioners will consider other areas. If they OK one, Oxitec would have to get permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration like it did for Key Haven.

The highly controversial release of Oxitec’s GM mosquitoes has been in discussion for years as a method of reducing the population of Aedes aegypti, which carry Zika and other viruses. Oxitec says the offspring of its mosquitoes die almost immediately, resulting in a smaller population of Aedes aegypti.

“There are some things that have to become components and the primary one is the test site,” said Commissioner Steve Smith, who added the potential release has “caused division and anguish in the community and pitted neighbor against neighbor.”

He could not say if he will vote for the release but added “it’s about public health. We are supposed to do everything to protect the health and economy of the state.”

Commissioner Tom McDonald said he favors going forward with the release. “I haven’t seen the new proposal yet, but I think we’re going forward — where, I don’t know” in terms of the trial site, he said.

Board Chairman Phil Goodman said he will vote to approve the contract but results from two Election Day referendums must be considered when choosing where to do the trial.

Keys residents and those in Key Haven specifically were asked if they were for or against the release of the mosquitoes. The majority of Key Haven voters, 65.16 percent, were against the release while countywide, 57.78 percent of voters favored the trial, which will be considered when determining a site, Goodman said, along with areas where high populations of Aedes aegypti are found.

Three votes in favor are needed by commissioners to approve the contract. Commissioners Bill Shaw and Jilly Craney-Gage could not be reached for comment. The Mosquito Control Board will meet Nov. 19 at 10 a.m. at 503 107th St. in Marathon.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219