Judicial review of GM mosquito plan gets under way

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

A lawyer representing opponents of a planned release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in West Bay told a judicial review Tuesday that a “proper risk assessment” of the project had not been done.

The judicial hearing that could indefinitely halt the release began Tuesday in Grand Court.

The hearing is to review a decision by the National Conservation Council on May 18 to grant a permit to the Mosquito Research and Control Unit and U.K. biotechnology company Oxitec to import and release the mosquitoes.

Stephen Tromans, QC, an expert in environmental law hired by the legal team representing Dwene Ebanks, who applied for the review, outlined the grounds of the case before Justice Ingrid Mangatal.

Mr. Tromans said the challenge was being raised on several grounds, including that the National Conservation Council failed to carry out an independent risk assessment; that the council erred in relying on Oxitec’s assertions that it complied with U.K. and EU regulations in 2009 (when Oxitec and the MRCU first released GM mosquitoes during a trial project), and had a “flawed reliance” on an October 2009 risk assessment – dated a month after the trial project had begun; that the National Conservation Council failed to carry out a public consultation before approving the permit; and that the council “acted irrationally” in granting MRCU’s application for a permit.

“There’s been an undue unwillingness to accept Oxitec’s own risk assessment and a failure to stand back and ask, ‘are those risk assessments sufficient and adequate?’” Mr. Tromans said.

He said there was a “huge discrepancy” between a proper risk assessment and what there is in this case, and that there should have been “a proper, fresh risk assessment.”

“[The National Conservation Council] could have taken this whole process more seriously and done a proper risk assessment and public consultation,” Mr. Tromans said.

An application for the judicial review was filed last week by HSM attorneys on behalf of Mr. Ebanks, who spearheads a movement called Caymanians United Against GM Mosquitoes. The application was filed a day before the operation to release the mosquitoes was scheduled to begin.

The hearing continued Tuesday.