(CNS): The results of an island-wide public opinion survey conducted on behalf of UK-based bio-tech firm, Oxitec, last month found that 69% of people who knew about the project to release genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were in favour. Almost three weeks after Oxitec scientists and the Mosquito Research and Control Unit began the controversial release of tens of thousands of the GM insects in West Bay in the first phase of an attempt to eradicate the invasive mosquito, officials said residents surveyed in that district were even more supportive.
The survey results come in the wake of considerable public opposition, which included a petition with hundreds of signatures of people not in support, and after legal action filed in the Grand Court to try to overturn the National Conservation Council’s decision to grant the project a permit. The survey also shows that almost one fifth of the people on Grand Cayman had no idea about the project, despite the requirement in the permit to release the bugs to engage in extensive public consultation.
Despite very real concerns in some quarters of the community, officials claim that the survey of around 800 people, which was said to have been undertaken by “independent qualified professionals”, reveals broad support for the pilot project.
“The objective of this research was to increase understanding of community knowledge, attitudes, and opinions regarding mosquito control and GE mosquitoes,” said Oxitec Project Manager Dr Renaud Lacroix. “The polling was contracted to independent qualified professionals who arranged for face to face interviews throughout the island.”
The Oxitec scientist, who is based in Cayman for the pilot project, said, “The survey has revealed overwhelming support for the programme, and the communication campaign will be continued during the project to keep residents informed.”
Poll results also show 74% of residents are worried or very worried about Zika, dengue and chikungunya and 89% agreed it was important or very important to test new tools against the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
While concerns remain about the release of the bio-engineered bugs, as many believe there are still several unanswered questions about the long-term implications for the environment, MRCU Director Dr William Petrie explained why the unit had turned to this controversial technology.
“The MRCU uses the best tools available in the fight against Aedes aegypti. The deployment of the most advanced techniques available, including Oxitec’s Friendly Aedes aegypti, is firmly in the public health interest, as the traditionally used tools have proven to have limitations in effectiveness,” he said.
Cayman has now had two confirmed local transmissions of the Zika virus in George Town, which Petrie said further justified the need to press on with the elimination programme.
“The subsequent wider expansion of this project throughout Grand Cayman is expected to benefit all residents and visitors. The appearance of Zika virus in Grand Cayman adds to the need to implement this programme without delay.”