Premier: Opposition to GM mosquito release political grandstanding

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

Premier Alden McLaughlin, in a press statement Tuesday, criticized opponents of the genetically modified mosquito program, as the Public Health Department confirmed Cayman’s first local cases of Zika.

Opponents of Oxitec’s GM mosquito research in West Bay sued government and the National Conservation Council a day before the scheduled mosquito releases were to start last month, halting the program until a judge rejected their arguments and allowed the releases to go ahead.

“It is regrettable that despite the very clear public health risks caused from Zika, some in the community chose to try and stop the release of the genetically modified mosquitoes,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

“Their attempt to prevent the release of the modified mosquitoes fortunately did not succeed but if it had, would have put Caymanians, residents and our visitors at further risk of contracting the diseases carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito – chikungunya, dengue and now Zika.”

The premier said the locally contracted Zika cases were transmitted before the GM mosquito releases began July 28.

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Mr. McLaughlin said, “Many of those who opposed the release of the mosquitoes here are already politicians or are political aspirants; people who should be taking public health seriously, not using it as a political platform to grandstand.

“Anyone who has ambitions to be a community leader or a Member of the Legislative Assembly must be more objective and thoughtful regarding the stances they take.”

The premier called on the opposition to the mosquito release to be more transparent. He said, “The public deserves to know the full truth to understand the motives behind the ill-advised and dangerous campaign.”

He took a swipe directly at Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, saying, “Instead of continuing to support MRCU in its work to prevent several harmful vector-borne illnesses, the Opposition Leader chose to pull his party colleagues onto the alarmist train in an attempt to stop what may be the best hope for controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the dangerous diseases that the breed carries.”

Reached by phone late Tuesday, Mr. Bush said, “[Mr. McLaughlin] can’t say we were being obstructionist by simply asking for more information. Alden is just playing politics with this.”

Mr. Bush said members of the opposition Cayman Islands Democratic Party sent a letter to Mr. McLaughlin on June 8 requesting the Oxitec project be put “on hold” until more public discussions and information were available.

The letter read: “We have given preliminary support from out first meeting with Dr. [Bill] Petrie and others from the Mosquito Research and Control Unit, 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.”

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