Editorial: Let Pinellas use GMO mosquito to fight Zika

Published August 29 2016
Updated August 29 2016

Let them fly. A bipartisan group of influential elected officials in Pinellas County is asking the Obama administration to allow the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the county to fight the Zika virus. There is no reason to wait, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should authorize their use as another means of curbing the spread of the virus while Congress fiddles.

As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Lisa Gartner reported earlier this month, a GMO mosquito created by Oxitec, a British biotechnology company, has been successful in stopping Zika. The company has released more than 150 million of them in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands — eliminating more than 90 percent of the disease-carrying mosquitoes. The FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have preliminarily found no significant impact on humans or the environment by introducing the GMO mosquito. Yet the FDA is giving Pinellas officials the runaround.

State Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, organized an effort last week to send a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell asking for permission for Pinellas to use the GMO mosquito. The letter was signed by a bipartisan group that includes U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs; more than a half dozen state legislators; and all seven members of the Pinellas County Commission. Yet the FDA says its rules prohibit the emergency use of animal products, and an FDA spokeswoman suggested the county contact Oxitec directly to try a local trial of the mosquito. Then let's do that.

When the prospect of using GMO mosquitoes was raised in the Florida Keys, residents were skeptical and the effort collapsed. But Pinellas generally has an enlightened approach toward established science, and local officials are on board. They should keep pushing for approval from Washington as the wait grows longer for Congress to act. A tropical storm could be on the way, which would mean more rain, more standing water, more mosquitoes and possibly more Zika.