Florida voters split on genetically modified mosquitoes release

Nov. 14, 2016, 10:50 a.m.

A plan to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the United States for the first time hit a snag on Tuesday night.

The FDA has already given the company Oxitec the green light to release the mosquitoes into a small neighborhood called Key Haven in the Florida Keys.

The NBC2 Investigators sat down with the scientists two months ago.

Many of the people who live in Key Haven have been putting up a fight.

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board has the final say, but the five members have promised they'll listen to the people.

They put two referendums on the Monroe County ballot.

One referendum was open only to residents of Key Haven; that's where the trial would take place. Sixty-five percent of voters opposed the mosquito release.

The second referendum was open to all residents of Monroe County. Fifty-eight percent of voters favored the mosquito release.

Now, people are asking: will the board side with Monroe County voters as a whole, or Key Haven residents?

The agenda has not been finalized for the board’s November 19th meeting, and Beth Ranson, public information officer, would not confirm to the NBC2 Investigators whether it will be discussed.

Oxitec's lead scientist, Dr. Derric Nimmo is breathing a small sigh of relief but said the battle isn't over.

"We've known for a while that Monroe County as a whole is in favor of this technology because I've been going around talking to people all over the Keys for the last five years," Nimmo said. "I don't know how the board will vote. I truly can't speak for the board."

Some are speculating that the board will choose to release the mosquitoes in another Monroe County town that has shown more support. 

If they change the release location, Nimmo said Oxitec would have to go back to the FDA and submit a new application.

"If they do decide to change it, then yes, we are ready, and we can move it to a place where people are more supportive. But we will have to submit the environmental assessment again, and get regulator approval again."

That will take time, and with Zika spreading quickly, time is not on our side.

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