Documents obtained by Never Again Foundation reveal that Oxitec’s secret GMO mosquito lab inside the public FKMCD headquarters in Marathon was fully completed in September, 2014 and has been hatching and rearing GMO mosquitoes as far back as January, 2015.
Before each meeting of the mosquito board, commissioners are provided a “Board Book” with copies of documents related to the meeting, including the Director’s Report. Nearly two years ago, then Director Michael Doyle reported that the lab was already in full production mode.
FDA inspection is expected to occur in the next month – the larvae are being hatched and run through development for a required demonstration to FDA when they arrive.
— Source: FKMCD Board Book 1/20/15 [emphasis ours]
Oxitec Admits Public Notice Was Required
This new information contradicts repeated statements by the District and by Oxitec’s public relations firm that the GMO mosquito lab was not already in use. In September 2014, however, a confidential Agreement to Commence Work was prepared by Oxitec’s Head of Business Development and signed by both parties. In it, he states his understanding that construction and use of the lab is subject to the outcome of a public notice.
I understand that all of the above is subject to both Board approval and the outcome of a public notice. In the event that either of these requirements prevents use of the building, Oxitec will make good any alterations made before such a decision.
— Source: Glen Slade, Confidential Oxitec Letter 9/2/14 [emphasis ours]
Is this work agreement itself supposed to constitute the public notice? Since it was labeled confidential and required a Sunshine Law request to obtain, it seems unlikely. Perhaps the public notice they’re referring to is in the Board Book from December of the same year. Director Doyle’s report at that meeting acknowledges that just three months later, the two labs have already been completed.
GM MOSQUITOES: Marathon [lab] rooms are completed other than minor touchup items.
— Source: FKMCD Board Book 12/12/14
Lab In Use Before Citizens Vote NO
Perhaps Oxitec was relying on the November 8th referendum to serve as their public notice. In that case, 65% of Key Haven residents voted NO to the release of the lab’s GMO mosquitoes.
In any event, it’s clear that construction, fitting out, and actual GMO mosquito production began in these labs before any “public notice” was given. The project has skirted millions of dollars in externalized costs by utilizing an existing public building, built with taxpayer money, instead of the far more expensive prospect of starting from scratch. Did the public receive notice of any of these aspects of the lab?
If the public had been notified of the lab’s existence or its production runs, why was there such shock and outrage when we broke the story? And why did Oxitec’s PR company feel compelled to conduct a national media tour three days later… a tour in which only one of the lab rooms was shown to journalists. Despite our repeated requests, Oxitec has refused to allow video or photography inside this public-but-not-public lab.
Protests & Legal Actions Anticipated
Wisely, the company anticipated that this approach might result in civil protests and legal challenges from the community.
13.3 Neither Party shall have any liability or be deemed to be in breach of this Agreement for any delays or failures in performance of this Agreement that results from an event or circumstances beyond the reasonable control of that Party, including without limitation civil protests or Third Party litigation directed against a Party with a view to bringing the Investigation to a premature end (an event of “Force Majeure”).
12.3 Should the Investigation be terminated prematurely as a result of an event of Force Majeure (as defined in clause 13.3) or by agreement of the Parties pursuant to Clause 11.2, Oxitec may continue to use the Insectary if it pays rent at fair market value and for a maximum of three years for the purposes of rearing and supplying the New Animal Drug to one or more Third Parties or otherwise.
— Source: Investigational Agreement 12/12/14 [emphasis ours]
Unbelievably, this agreement between Oxitec and Michael Doyle includes an escape clause to allow the company to continue to rent the space and produce GMO mosquitoes for other cities like Miami and Tampa — even if protests or lawsuits succeed in stopping the tests here.
In 2015, Board Recommends “No Public Meetings”
It is clear from this paper trail that Oxitec and the Florida Keys Mosquito District had no interest in obtaining public consent on this matter. By January, 2015, when production had already started, the Board was recommending that “no further public meetings” be held on the subject. But wait. Didn’t the Key West City Commission unanimously vote to pass a resolution back in April, 2012 which was supposed to stop any GMO mosquito activity here until further tests and a public vote could be done? Your Mosquito District didn’t seem to think that mattered.
A lengthy discussion was had regarding the GM mosquito updates. The board recommended the following: no more public meetings on this topic; no need to
follow up on the City of Key West resolution regarding GM mosquitoes.
— Source: FKMCD Board Book 1/20/15 [emphasis ours]
The Tourism Impact of a GMO Mosquito Factory
In a letter published in the the Key West Citizen, Jeffrey Smith, director of the film Genetic Roulette, points out that the entire Zika scare and the GMO mosquito connection can have devastating effects on our tourism economy.
How likely is it that the GE mosquitoes will impact tourism? The chances of tourists being bitten by mosquitoes during a Key West visit are 100%. Some, of course, will experience health problems soon after—for whatever reason. How many will blame the mosquito? It’s unknown, but also entirely uncontrollable. And if the story gets out, authorities will find themselves trying to convince a fearful and angry public that genetic engineering is safe—something that a multibillion dollar industry has yet to achieve in two decades. So even if the mosquito is safe, tourism in South Florida is not.
— Source: Jeffrey Smith as published in the Key West Citizen
Even the suggestion that the Keys would need a GMO mosquito factory sends a bad message to tourists, much less that were are slated to be the production headquarters for GMO mosquitoes for all of South Florida and beyond. And all of this for a county with an effective mosquito control campaign and safer options on the table.
Emergency Board Meeting & Peaceful Protest Nov. 19th!
If you think there shouldn’t be a secret GMO mosquito in the Florida Keys, please come out and make your voice heard at the Emergency Meeting of the FKMCD Board on Saturday, November 19th at 10am. Individuals will be given 3 minutes to address the District, the public, and the video cameras. Organizations can choose one representative and will be given 5 minutes to speak. (These are the Board’s rules, not ours.) We also welcome people to hold signs, attend the meeting, and/or protest peacefully outside. Contact us on our Facebook page for more information or to arrange ridesharing.