Like marketers, journalists know the value of omitting a fact or two when it doesn’t fit the story you want to sell. Media bias has become so common now that we turn to specific news outlets looking for their own brand of one-sided journalism. If that’s the case, then the Key West Citizen newspaper is clear about which side of the GMO mosquito debate they’re on.
Two stories in the September 7 issue of Florida Keys Free Press (owned by the Citzen) deliberately omit key facts about the proposed Oxitec GMO mosquito test while repeating the lies and misleading statements supplied by Oxitec’s public relations company, Hill+Knowlton. Undoubtedly, the high powered PR firm has been sending the Citizen regular press releases which they seem happy to copy-and-paste without further research.
“Tetracycline is a key component in ensuring Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes die after being born. The antibiotic acts as a switch to control the mosquito’s other genes. During the rearing process, the mosquitoes are given tetracycline, which enables them to survive and reproduce in the facility, but when the males are released into the wild, their offspring can’t access the antibiotic in the quantities needed to survive, so they die before reaching adulthood.”
— Timothy O’Hara, Reporter
I’m sorry, Tim. That’s not how it works. Tetracycline is a key component in keeping the mosquitoes alive. The genetic switch doesn’t make all the mosquitoes die. In fact, many will live long enough to take two blood meals from humans before they die. The official product claim from Oxitec is a “twofold increase in lethality before adulthood” versus non-GMO mosquitoes. The actual death rate is never disclosed.
“Even small amounts of tetracycline can repress the RIDL system… They were getting 15% survival of a transgenic line. It is known that tetracycline is routinely used to prevent infections in chickens, especially in the cheap, mass produced, chicken used for animal food. The chicken is heat treated before being used, but this does not remove all of the tetracycline. This meant that a small amount of tetracycline was being added from the food to the larvae and repressing the lethal system.”
— Derric Nimmo, Oxitec
1. The Real Risk of Tetracycline
Oxitec’s own study showed that up to 15% of the GMO mosquitoes were able to survive and reproduce when they had access to cat food. Common pet foods often contain tetracycline residues and when the GMO mosquitoes find pet foods in backyard containers and dumpsters, they will survive and mate. The mating process requires a human blood meal before eggs can be laid. The average female lives long enough to take two human blood meals.
When GMO mosquitoes find tetracycline in the wild or are exposed to it by cross-contamination in the laboratory the lethal gene can also be switched-off, resulting in unlimited numbers of GMO generations crossed with wild type mosquitoes. This is exactly the kind of unpredictable effect that is not addressed in any of Oxitec’s published studies.
The newspaper story presents an entirely different viewpoint than the facts from Oxitec’s own documents. It also repeats the famous lie that “males are released” when in reality both males and females are released. Vast numbers of males compared to small amounts of females, yes, but 62 biting females per person as the Key Haven trial would release is still a lot of biting GMO mosquitoes in your backyard around your family and pets.
Another O’Hara story in the same issue repeats the PR line:
The male mosquitoes are bred to mate females with the goal of the offspring dying shortly after being born.
— Timothy O’Hara
2. The Famous “Only Male Mosquitoes” Story
That may be the goal, but it’s not the reality. At best Oxitec can sort out about 99.98% of the females. That sounds terrific until you realize that even the Key Haven test requires releasing over 14 million mosquitoes. The company expects to be able to come 3x a week for 22 months to tend to the breeding containers.
Even the suggestion that the GMO mosquitoes are “bred to mate females” is misleading. In actuality, the GMO mosquito, crippled as it is by artificial DNA, does a poor job of mating. Unsurprisingly, wild type female mosquitoes don’t particularly prefer it. So Oxitec has to overwhelm the natural system with 5-25 times as many artificial mosquitoes as natural ones. The company’s tests in the Cayman Islands showed an effect on population only after massive, repeated GMO mosquito releases. The Oxitec GMO mosquito is its own Neverending Story.
3. Wherefore Art Thou, FDA?
Oxitec and the mainstream media like to use the word FDA because it confers authority and approval. But what exactly has the FDA’s role been to date?
The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved the test release and will be the government agency overseeing the test and reviewing the findings. In August, the FDA issued a final finding of no significant impact on humans or the environment.
— Timothy O’Hara
The FDA only reviewed a document sent to the them by Oxitec, written by its scientists. The FDA did not do any testing of the GMO mosquito — nor has anyone outside of Oxitec and its paid researchers. There is no one from the FDA “overseeing the test.” The secret agreement leaked by Never Again says that no one but Oxitec may have access to the test results, not even the Mosquito District itself. All press releases about the test (if it were to be conducted) must come from a pre-approved list by Oxitec’s “Steering Committee,” no doubt supplied with helpful journalistic phrases that can be dumped into newspapers like these.
Oxitec refuses to allow outside or peer-reviewed testing of its patented artificial animal. The “finding of no significant impact” is a finding about the document, not about mosquitoes — as no testing of the mosquitoes has ever been done on many of the most important issues at stake.
In other words, Oxitec wrote a paper which, given the small amount of materials it presented and the huge amount of research questions that it left unanswered, in itself presented nothing to worry the FDA. This website is full of resources that show crucial holes in that document, especially when compared to the safer Wolbachia option. Even though Wolbachia has also been approved for testing in the Keys, the Citizen doesn’t mention it any of the three stories about GMO mosquitoes in this issue.
4. Hyping Up the Zika Scare
The paper goes out of its way to scare you into believing that Zika is an immanent threat to your health here in the Keys:
To date, the Florida Department of Health has documented more than 500 cases of travel-related and 43 cases of locally transmitted Zika infections in the state.
— Timothy O’Hara
The actual number of Zika cases in Monroe County is 3. Three. All of them travel related, meaning the people did not contract Zika by being bitten from a Keys mosquito. Let that sink in for a minute. Even without GMO mosquitoes or even Wolbachia, we are already doing a better job at suppressing mosquito born illness than other counties in Florida. Doesn’t the phrase “43 cases of locally transmitted Zika infections” in the article make it sound like 43 people in the Keys got Zika from a mosquito bite? Why is Mr. O’Hara selling the GMO mosquito solution so hard? What’s in it for him?
Ironically, the third mosquito article in the issue is all about the District’s “boots on the ground,” or door-to-door efforts and education and eradication of mosquito breeding locations. The simplest (and safest) way to eliminate mosquitoes is to simply dump any fresh water left standing in your backyard, no matter how small the amount, after every time it rains.
5. Backroom Deals & Election Influence
Despite devoting a full page to the subject of Oxitec’s Political Action Committee, Mr. O’Hara din’t feel the need to point out that the “education awareness campaign” the company is conducting through it’s fake nonprofit group is simply an attempt at electioneering by a $3 billion biotech firm that expects Keys residents to pay for a lifetime addiction to its expensive, unproven product. The company’s PR goons have resorted to door-to-door canvassing and rigged robocalls to scare local voters into buying their goods with the threat of a swift punch in the face from Zika if we don’t agree to be their guinea pigs.
This is nothing more than a money and political power play to make Key West the testing place which gets GMO mosquitoes approved so that Oxitec can sell them in the rest of the United States and around the world. There are hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars at stake here for Oxitec, a company with a whole line of rejected and failed products.
No Citizen article has address the secret deal to construct a commercial GMO mosquito lab in a public building and to use public employees to run it, all the while reporting to their Oxitec bosses. Does that sound like a mosquito trial for the benefit of the people of Key West, or more like being strong-armed by a bad guy? Why do Oxitec and the District continue to resort to hiding their plans to sell mosquitoes to Miami and Tampa, even going so far as try and declare a Zika “emergency” so they can open the factory. And what’s in all of outgoing-Director Michael Doyle’s emails that makes them worth the $8,000 fee he demands for the public to read them? Could they be related to his role as a consultant to the District and the GMO project, even after he’s quit? That’s what the contract says.
The people of Key West do not have a significant Zika problem at this time. Mosquito control is a local matter and our public health, environmental safety, and protection of our tourist economy are matters of importance to residents of the Keys. We have the right to say no to Oxitec’s human medical experiment.