The planned release of genetically modified mosquitoes was delayed because — read carefully — the Cayman Islands government was unable to obtain a government permit.
The Mosquito Research and Control Unit and its private sector partner Oxitec (a British biotech firm) had intended to release millions of GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in West Bay in mid-June, with the aim of dramatically reducing the “wild” population of the disease-carrying insects, which can harbor and transmit fearsome viruses such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika.
However, their plans were stymied, and the scheduled start date came and went, as the organizations waited on a “certificate of occupancy” for the laboratory that breeds the GM mosquitoes. (Members of our property and development community can empathize — waiting on a “red card” is a familiar lament from that sector.)
In brief, governmental authorities were tripped up by government’s own bureaucratic hurdles.
We have a small confession to make. When we first recognized that the Cayman Islands government had missed its deadline for the release of Oxitec’s mosquitoes, our initial hypothesis was that — when confronted with opposition from some segments of the populace who are wary of “genetically modified” anything — our elected leaders had blinked. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that Progressives politicians wavered, or even wilted, under pressure. (See: The EY Report.)
Whatever the reason for the delay of the Oxitec project, be it bureaucratic or political, it makes for a “bad” news story for government.
If the government’s story is true, and there really was a lack of timeliness in regard to the certificate of occupancy, then it constitutes a strong commentary on the government’s inability to penetrate its own bureaucracy and get things done on schedule.
If the government’s story isn’t true, then it indicates that officials may have prevaricated, are needlessly procrastinating, or have changed their minds as to the wisdom of the mosquito release.
As for ourselves, we tend to believe officials when they say that the delay was caused by a run-of-the-mill problem with paperwork. As was reported in a news article we published on Tuesday’s front page, Oxitec is saying that the GM mosquitoes are now being bred and the release into West Bay will begin this month. (If officials do intend to terminate the GM mosquito program altogether, then they can’t possibly hope to keep up the narrative of “bureaucratic delay” or “soon come” forever … Well, then again — there has been considerable precedent set in regard to the George Town Landfill …)
Anyway, as we’ve written previously, on many complex, scientific or technical subjects, such as tactics to combat Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the decisions are best left up to the experts. If our MRCU personnel (with approval from other environmental and public health officials) have determined that Oxitec’s technology is Cayman’s best tool to minimize (or perhaps even prevent) outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses, then let’s get on with it already.
No more delays, no more excuses. And ideally, no more mosquitoes.