When is a contract not a contract? The secret agreement between Oxitec and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District allowed the company to equip a GMO mosquito lab inside the District’s public headquarters in Marathon and claim the company owns it. But when District Chairman Phil Goodman was confronted about the lab at the October 18 Board Meeting, he says “There is no contract.” So which is it?
“There is no contract at this point. Nothing has been signed.”
— FKMCD Chairman Phil Goodman (25:25)
After Never Again leaked the story of the backroom deal with Oxitec and the existence of the lab, Oxitec’s public relations firm, Hill+Knowlton, arranged a tour for mainstream media outlets. Never Again was not invited. Short clips of the lab were shown on news stations around the country. If there is no contract to furnish a lab, how was it built inside of a taxpayer-funded public building?
It’s Their Lab. But You Paid for It.
“I know that the lab is built on our premises but it’s really Oxitec’s lab.”
— FKMCD Chairman Phil Goodman (4:09)
When pressed for an opportunity to tour the lab with local journalists — the same opportunity given to media from San Francisco, New York, and Miami, Chairman Goodman replied that the lab belongs to Oxitec and that the public would need that company’s permission to film inside the taxpayer-funded building.
Is it legal to allow a vendor to hire a public relations firm that then decides who can and can’t visit a taxpayer funded building run by elected officials? It seems unlikely. Yet that’s exactly what’s going on here. On the one hand, the District says they have no agreement with Oxitec. On the other hand, the vendor’s PR company is ordering people around inside a lab that they never admitted was being built.
How Oxitec Hides The Real Costs.
So what exactly is inside this lab? Not much, really. Rearing mosquitoes is not that difficult and all the GMO work is done in England, adding to the logistical complications of shipping eggs to the US and then driving larvae containers up and down the Keys. According to the contract-that’s-not-a-contract, Oxitec spent $55,000 outfitting two small rooms inside the District’s headquarters building. The biggest future expenses will come from the extensive waste processing and transport costs which the process requires, and the District has failed to answer questions about how much those will be and who will pay them.
The entire lab is a brilliant ploy to externalize the costs of building a GMO mosquito factory. This is a technique used by corporations to pass on their expenses to the public. It transfers the costs of waste cleanup, environmental remediation and permitting, legal fees, and other expenses to the taxpayer instead of the corporation which stands to profit from the deal. If Oxitec had built its own GMO mosquito lab, the company would face millions of dollars in expenses before it could begin to outfit labs.
A private GMO mosquito factory would require the purchase of land and a building, improvements to the building itself such as safety and security features, parking, etc., and the hiring of numerous staff for everything from driving trucks to answering phone calls. Even the endless meetings, public objections, and paperwork required to get this project off the ground would have to be handled by Oxitec itself. Instead, the costs of opening the new private facility have been passed to the taxpayers of Monroe County by allowing Oxitec to utilize these resources which already exist — and which belong to the public.
Skipping The Environmental Impact Study
Even more expensive than land and a building would be the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) required by the EPA before opening a facility which handles restricted waste, as the mosquito and drug-contaminated solid and wastewater output of this process is classified by the FDA. Oxitec again skirted millions in costs by moving into a building for which taxpayers had already funded the environmental permits. It is quite possible that the citizens of Monroe County would not even have allowed the company to build such a facility by protesting it at the permitting stage, or tying it up for years in legal battles. Oxitec externalized all these risks by moving ahead with its “contract” with the board. A contract which was never signed and never seen by the public but seems to being implemented.
Buying Employees. Buying Trucks.
And just who will work in this lab that isn’t supposed to exist? Public employees, of course. About $250,000/year worth for the two years of the proposed trial. Those employees are expected to report to Oxitec product manager Derric Nimmo, himself on the Oxitec payroll while the public funds his team of workers. And all of this is for an experiment which can only cover about 144 homes in the tiny neighborhood of Key Haven! The resources required to apply these GMO mosquitoes for years all up-and-down the Keys are simply not realistic — unless, of course, you’re the one collecting the money. Then they sound terrific! It’s no wonder that Oxitec chose the world’s best funded mosquito district to try and sell their expensive, never-ending product line.
And what about that truck in the opening graphic? It’s part of the non-contract, too. Oxitec has specified that the public buy a new Ford F150 truck just for the Key Haven test. Will it be for Derric himself, or will he simply direct others to drive around in the vehicle he’s picked out? And how many Ford trucks would we be required to buy for this $3 billion biotech firm if the product were applied beyond Key Haven? Distributing GMO mosquitoes 3 times a week, as the test specifies, would require a whole fleet of expensive new trucks and the gas and drivers that go along with them.
Everything about this GMO mosquito test is a money grab. The more you investigate, the more you’ll want to stop it from happening in our community. Tell your friends and neighbors you’re voting NO on GMO mosquitoes on November 8th. The people of Key West don’t want this kind of politics in our town.