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US Government Agencies Are Holding Up Plans To Release Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

October 19th, 2017

US Government Agencies Are Holding Up Plans To Release Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

Releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment is a controversial method of mosquito-borne disease prevention. After all, mosquitoes are pests and the last thing that public health officials want is an increase in mosquito populations. However, the science behind this particular disease prevention method is pretty solid. The genetically modified mosquitoes are expected to ultimately decrease the population of mosquitoes, which will save lives in the long run. A British company that raises genetically modified mosquitoes has been struggling with American regulatory industries for years. Agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration have been slow to investigate the potential problems and logistics involved with the release of millions of mutant mosquito populations within the United States. The FDA is not the only government agency that is tasked with evaluating the radical mosquito control plan, as the Environmental Protection Agency will also need to evaluate the plan and eventually decide whether or not to approve of the mutant mosquito method.

The British company that has been developing the mutant mosquitoes is called Oxitec. The United States has many strict laws and policies concerning the use of biotechnology. Oxitec applied for US Government approval six years ago, but so far the company has not yet gained the legal right to release mutant mosquitoes within the continental United States. US Government agencies recognize mosquitoes as “pests”, but Oxitec’s mutant mosquitoes are also considered “disease vectors”, and “animals”. Becuae these mutant mosquitoes are created as a method of mosquito eradication, they are also classified as a “pesticide”.  Since the mutant mosquitoes have numerous official classifications, a variety of different federal agencies will each have to evaluate Oxitec’s mosquito control plan before giving the plan approval. Given this unfortunate reality, Oxitec’s mutant mosquitoes may never become approved for release within the US.

The abundance of US regulations concerning the use of biotechnology, and the numerous agencies that must first approve of Oxitec’s plan could mean that approval will take too long, or never come at all. These bureaucratic stumbling blocks could prevent the mutant mosquitoes from being released within the US, and this could cause more harm than good. If these mutant mosquitoes were to be released in America, many lives could be spared. The FDA has been tasked with conducting the majority of investigations into Oxitec’s plan, but recently, and for the first time since 2011, the FDA decided to classify the mutant mosquitoes as pesticides, which means that the EPA will now be in charge of overseeing Oxitec’s mosquito control plan. Officials with Oxitec are pleased with this change, as federal law requires the EPA to review new pesticides “as expeditiously as possible.” The EPA can spend no longer than twelve months evaluating the logistics of Oxitec’s mosquito control method. Officials with Oxitec are hoping to have the mutant mosquitoes released into the environment within the next six months, which is just in time for the new mosquito season.

Do you believe that releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into human inhabited environments is necessary in order to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases?

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