UPDATE – Legal action pauses GM mosquito release

(file photo)
Oxitec project manager Renaud Lacroix examines GM mosquito pupae in a lab on the MRCU premises. - PHOTOS: MATT LAMERS

The planned release of genetically modified mosquitoes in West Bay, scheduled to begin Thursday morning, was halted after a judge granted a stay late Wednesday.

The stay is pending a judicial review hearing scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Opponents of the planned release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in West Bay applied to the court for the stay and for judicial review Wednesday in an effort to stop the operation that would involve the release of millions of GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in West Bay.

The Mosquito Research and Control Unit, in collaboration with biotechnology company Oxitec, plans to release the mosquitoes as a preventive measure to control the mosquito responsible for the transmission of viruses such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

The applications for a stay and for judicial review were filed by HSM attorneys on behalf of Dwene Ebanks, who spearheads an opposition movement called Caymanians United Against GM Mosquitoes.

The application for judicial review seeks for a review of the decision of the National Conservation Council on May 18, which granted a permit to the MRCU and Oxitec for the import and release of up to 22 million GM mosquitoes in West Bay.

In an affidavit to the court, Mr. Ebanks said he was applying for judicial review of the contested decision on five “principal grounds,” which include concerns about a “failure to carry out an independent risk assessment upon which to base any properly informed decision to grant the MRCU application.”

Mr. Ebanks said in his affidavit that the National Conservation Council “relied solely on a risk assessment authored by Oxitec in collaboration with MRCU in Oct. 2009” and that the council “appear to have failed to give any consideration … to the fact that such a risk assessment could not be regarded as independent; the principal author was a party with a commercial interest.”

Trial release in 2009

Oxitec first released mosquitoes in Grand Cayman during a six-month trial starting in September 2009.

The application for judicial review also asserts that the October 2009 risk assessment does not comply with European law, and that the National Conservation Council should have made its own inquiries to ensure that the risk assessment complied with EU directives.

‘No public consultation’

Another significant concern of Mr. Ebanks – and another ground on which the application for judicial review was filed – is the contention that the council “acted unlawfully in failing to carry out a public consultation” before approving the project.

Genetically modified mosquito larvae
Genetically modified mosquito larvae

Mr. Ebanks said in his affidavit that the release of the GM mosquitoes in 2009 and 2010 was “undertaken in secret,” and that there was only one public meeting regarding this year’s planned release.

“I believe that without proper and truthful information on a topic which may have an impact on the health of the public and an effect on the environment, the people of the Cayman Islands are not in a position to give their informed consent to the release of an alien and genetically modified species to the Cayman Islands,” Mr. Ebanks said in the affidavit.

The application for judicial review also notes that while the date of the grant of the import license is not known, what “is known,” the application states, is that the MRCU and Oxitec, with the involvement of the Ministry of Health, entered into a partnership agreement before MRCU’s submission of the application to the National Conservation Council.

“There is therefore a clear risk that NCC’s consideration of the application has been tainted by the taking into account of an irrelevant consideration – namely the existence of this partnership agreement which was the subject of a prior press release on May 5, 2015 announcing the multi-phase roll of Oxitec’s programme on Grand Cayman.” The decision to grant the application by the National Conservation Council was taken at its meeting on May 18.

“The NCC may – through taking this fact into account – have fettered its discretion in the decision making process, as a rejection of the application would be in conflict to a binding agreement involving another Government Department,” Mr. Ebanks said in his affidavit.

The Cayman Compass approached the MRCU, Oxitec and the Ministry of Environment for comment, but had received no responses by press time.

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    • Perhaps you missed the part where a previous release was done in east end to study the results. Also other releases have been done in Panama and Brazil and other countries I believe to study the results. Publications of all of these can be found online and in journals.

  1. Good work Mr. Dwene Ebanks! These is serious and important issues of concern. We need to have a place/space where the public can be my involved with this project. This will affect Cayman for generations and generations. There is no going back once these Genetic Modified Organizes are released into the environment. They will have a impact no matter what. We are modifying nature. The entire food chain will be affect by this. Any animal/human that is bitten with this mutation will have an effect on the host/prey. Have we not learned from GMO Food that these are not healthy resolutions/solutions to global issues. There are other ways to address and manage these disease breakouts. We cannot allow foreign specialists/scientists and government to make these decisions without the public’s input. WE THE PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT! THIS IS OUR HOME COUNTRY.

    • Oh god, another fear mongerer scared of anything they deem “unnatural”.

      We modify nature all the time and doing so is the primary reason average life expectancy is closer to 80 and not 30 years old, children don’t die in mass from preventable disease, and a significant percentage of women don’t die giving birth.

      Any animal/human bitten with have an effect on the host/prey – what does that even mean? First what effect? Mosquitoes don’t transfer their DNA. They do however transfer diseases. The only genetic modification is a gene that makes the offspring of these mosquitoes perish before they reach adulthood and can spread more disease, but like I said mosquitoes don’t transfer DNA when biting so that doesn’t even matter.

      What have we learned from GMO food? That it increases yields, reduces water, pesticide and herbicide uses and has zero effect on human health, other than when it is used to fortify certain plants with vitamins to enhance health (see golden rice).

      Do you want a public referendum on every single decision the government makes? Why aren’t you out there calling for public input on the MRCU’s spraying of pesticide over half the island? Surely that’s a health risk that needs to be addressed?

  2. Nice idea Jay, but unworkable as, according to the information on the MRCU website, the Aedes egypti mosquito has not yet colonised the Sister Islands. This approach is useless against any other species of mosquito.