West Bay MLAs call for GM mosquito release delay

Premier says project will go ahead as planned

West Bay MLAs, front row, from left, government minister Tara Rivers and Cayman United Party representatives Capt. Eugene Ebanks, Bernie Bush and McKeeva Bush met on May 5 with, back row, from left, Bill Petrie of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit and Renaud Lacroix and Glen Slade of Oxitec to learn about plans to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in their district this month. The three opposition members have now raised objections to the project and are calling for it to be delayed.

West Bay opposition MLAs are calling for the suspension of plans to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in their district.

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush sent a letter to Premier Alden McLaughlin last week, asking that government hold off on implementing the planned release until “more public discussions and education have been completed and a more satisfactory assessment of risk can take place.”

“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 letter stated. The letter was co-signed by West Bay MLAs Eugene Ebanks and Bernie Bush, who read it out during a speech in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

It states that while the MLAs gave “preliminary support” for the project after an initial meeting with MRCU officials, the go-ahead was given “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,” the letter states.

It comes on the heels of a petition signed by more than 600 residents calling for a six-month suspension of the project.

The release is part of a mosquito control solution developed by U.K. biotech company Oxitec, which involves releasing “friendly” sterile Aedes aegypti male mosquitoes to help fight the species which transmits viruses such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika. The Mosquito Research and Control Unit and Oxitec will implement the project.

Premier Alden McLaughlin responded to the West Bay MLAs in a letter Friday, saying that the Cayman Islands “stands to benefit tremendously from Oxitec’s collaboration with the MRCU” and he “regrettably cannot accede” to the request to put the project on hold as he does not believe it would be “in the best interests of the Cayman Islands.”

“The MRCU has done an outstanding job in controlling the Aedes aegypti population here, however, they are finding it difficult to do so,” Mr. McLaughlin wrote. “The Aedes aegypti are showing resistance to many of the available insecticides, and their ability to lay their eggs in very small quantities of water around houses makes it virtually impossible to eliminate all of their breeding sites.

“These are challenges that are not unique to our situation here, they are being faced around the world wherever the Aedes aegypti is found. As a result, there is an urgent need to identify and employ new tools in the control of this disease vector.”

Mr. McLaughlin noted in his letter that the World Health Organization “recommends the use of this technique, following a thorough review by an independent group of renowned scientists from around the world,” and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published a preliminary “Finding of No Significant Impacts,” which found Oxitec’s mosquito control solution would not have a negative impact on human health or the environment.

“There was a tremendous amount of information and research submitted to the FDA as part of the process leading up to the preliminary [Finding of No Significant Impacts], and I believe that, combined with the endorsement from the WHO and the results from Oxitec’s work in other jurisdictions, represents a robust body of ‘scientific answers’ to support the project,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

“I have asked the MRCU and Oxitec Cayman to continue their public education efforts, and I encourage you, and the people of the Cayman Islands, to continue to engage with MRCU and Oxitec and learn more about this important and innovative project.”