EPA approves release of GMO mosquitoes in Harris County: What has to happen before project can take off

HOUSTON – A project involving the release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes beginning in 2021 has been approved by federal authorities, and Harris County is one area in which the pilot program could go forward, according to a report by CNN.

Oxitec, the US-owned, British-based company that developed the engineered species, announced the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) granted the company an experimental use permit (EUP) to field test the use of genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The company’s aim through the test is to protect public health from mosquito-borne illnesses.

According to CNN, “the genetically engineered mosquito, named OX5034, has been altered to produce female offspring that die in the larval stage, well before hatching and growing large enough to bite and spread disease.”

According to a media statement by the EPA, field tests will first be conducted in Monroe County, Fla. following state and local authorities’ approval.

“The EUP is designed to test the effectiveness of genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes as a way to reduce mosquito populations in a controlled environment with appropriate safeguards as a first step to potentially wider use in the United States,” the statement reads.

The genetically engineered mosquitoes are approved to be released into Harris County beginning in 2021. To go forward with this pilot program, state and local approval would be needed, but that’s not yet been granted, according to Harris County Public Health’s Sam Bissett, who spoke with CNN.

“Local health officials confirm that there is no agreement in place or plans to move forward with the project at this time,” Bissett told CNN. “Our focus is on our efforts with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The planned release in Florida is not without controversy, with local residents and a coalition of environmental advocacy groups speaking out. Read more about their concerns here.

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