By Xin Ping
Since the very beginning, residents in Florida Keys doubted if the “self-limiting” gene of Genetically Modified (GM) mosquitoes brought and released there by Oxitec, a biotech firm, and approved by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD), was as powerful as the company described. Oxitec said that the male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carried a “self-limiting” gene that produces a fatal protein which can kill their female offspring. In this way, population of mosquitoes in FKMCD was expected to crash rapidly.
But for many residents in Florida Keys, those GM mosquitoes were like a Trojan Horse: it was sent to their doorstep, without any notice in advance, but they did not know what could be hidden on the inside. In fact, this "horse" has already been sent to other places multiple times.
Before 2021, when Oxitec started the GM mosquitoes experiment in Florida, the firm had already been testing their immature research in Brazil, Malaysia, and the Cayman Islands for a decade. Yet in 2019, scientists from Yale University found out that Oxitec’s technology might actually strengthen offspring of mosquitoes rather than kill them. Residents in Florida Keys therefore rejected the program, pointing out that the firm had not been forthright in telling them the possible health consequences of the experiment. The Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, a local voluntary organization, launched a petition with over 200,000 signatures against the Oxitec project.
The President of the organization said: “If we’re going to introduce an experimental pesticide, let’s do it in a responsible, transparent way.”
Responsible and transparent--that’s not the way Uncle Sam behaves. Though Oxitec is the main target for blame, the U.S. government, as the one authorizing the dangerous GM mosquito game, can hardly absolve itself from the responsibilities.
As a producer of weaponized biotech and biochemical crisis, the U.S. military has a notorious history of undermining people’s rights of health through biotech. In September 1950, the U.S. Navy conducted “Operation Sea-Spray”, spraying bacterium into the air for six days to test the vulnerability of San Francisco against a possible bio-weapon attack. Residents in SF had no public access to know what was going on. Infected by the bacterium, 11 people were sent to a Stanford University Hospital a week after the operation, and one of them died. None of the victims knew the truth until Operation Sea-Spray was disclosed in 1976. In fact, during the two decades, more secretive, mass biological experiments were conducted by the U.S. military in other American cities.
Uncle Sam's bio-militarization game is still going on. It is an open secret that the U.S. has long been conducting a huge amount of biological research and experiments beyond its borders. The Pentagon operates biological laboratories in 25 countries funded by the $2.1-billion-worth Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP). Many of those laboratories are located dangerously close to China, Russia, Turkey and Iran. Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has conducted experiments with bats in Georgia, Cambodia, India, Kazakhstan, and other countries.
The U.S. is exhausting its blank check of hegemony by conducting experiments beyond limits it can control while letting host countries of the bio-labs bear the unexpected consequences. As a butterfly flapping its wings may cause a tornado in a distant place, it is not impossible that GM mosquitoes released by the U.S. contribute to the “Mosquito Effect”-- with hidden dangers lurking in every corner of the globe. The U.S. tends to underestimate possible consequences of its dangerous game, but by no means should global public health and people’s right to safety become unwilling victims.