Cover-up over GM mozzie project denied

| 16/05/2018 | 49 Comments
Cayman News Service

Genetically modified mosquitoes being prepared for release

(CNS): Officials have said emails sent by Nancy Barnard while she was acting director of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit have been distorted and that she was not trying to cover anything up about the controversial genetically modified mosquito pilot. Barnard, who was corresponding with scientists about the results of the MRCU and Oxitec project to release GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, denies she was trying to withhold information but was trying to ensure the right information was released. After evidence emerged about disagreements at the unit over the questionable success of the GM mosquitoes pilot programme, MRCU issued a release Wednesday, setting out timelines and issues and finally revealing the costs.

The release came in the wake of a briefing report from the UK-based GeneWatch, which has been sounding the alarm and challenged the efficacy of the bio-engineered insects. The NGO has also raised concerns about the dangers of their release for some time.

While government officials deny any cover-ups, the statement is still ambiguous about the future of the project and any planned further roll out. It also reveals that, despite comments made to CNS by officials yesterday that the costs to government so far have been in kind, it is about to give Oxitec close to $600,000 as it continues to work with the now questionable technology until at least the end of the year.

In the statement Dr Alan Wheeler, the MRCU scientist who raised the concerns about the results and the possible failure of the project, said that the newly re-negotiated contract that the MRCU and Oxitec are now engaged in will evaluate the technique before any national roll-out.

Jim McNelly, the new MRCU director, said the unit and Oxitec are in agreement on how, where and when to proceed with the evaluation but it will  be the MRCU’s role to evaluate what success will look like. He said discussions between them have led to the creation of a “sound strategy that includes a range of techniques, which will be enhanced by access to more efficient equipment”, according to the release.

Meanwhile, Barnard explains that emails suggesting she was saying information should be concealed were wrong. “Anyone with whom I have worked will be aware that I am a staunch supporter of openness, accountability and government transparency,” she said in the release. “Rather, I was stating that the public could not be told the report was formulated by a private sector company because this was not the case.”

She explained, “The June 2017 MRCU annual report on the Oxitec project was prepared by MRCU in conjunction with Oxitec under Dr Petrie’s directorship. Dr Wheeler, along with the rest of the MRCU-Oxitec Steering Committee approved and signed off on the contents of that report.”

See full statement from the MRCU and relevant documents in the CNS Library

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Category: Local News

Comments (49)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Letter from Dr Alan Wheeler in today’s press:

    “I have remained silent on the comments and posts being made on a number of news outlets and social media relating to internal email communications at MRCU. Some of the posts however have made unjust accusations and I feel I must respond. I would like to clarify the context of some of the email exchanges and specifically respond to what I consider to be unfair accusations against Mrs. Nancy Barnard.

    The emails concerned MRCU’s collaborative work with Oxitec and discussions on the analysis of data collected. Over the course of the collaborative work I did raise a number of concerns about operational issues, interpretation of the results and value for money. As a person employed by the Cayman Islands Government I feel it was my duty to raise such concerns as I am paid to work for the best interests of the people of the Cayman Islands.

    After the departure of Dr. Petrie in August 2017 Ms. Barnard was placed as Acting Director of MRCU and had to quickly familiarize herself with its operations and internal workings. As the Assistant Director I had knowledge of aspects of the Oxitec project that Mrs. Barnard did not. I therefore do not consider it to be unusual to have communicated this knowledge to Mrs. Barnard. In every email exchange or conversation I had with Nancy I found her to be receptive to my concerns and able to fairly evaluate the information I gave to her and respond appropriately. If she agreed with my comments she would act and if she disagreed we would work together until we were both in agreement. In the short time Nancy was at MRCU she made considerable and positive changes for the better at MRCU.

    When Nancy first came to MRCU the department was very close to signing a $8 million contract with Oxitec for an islandwide roll-out of the Oxitec technique. I was not in favor of this as I considered that the technique had not yet proven its efficiency and that more data needed to be collected before investing heavily in it. Mrs. Barnard was very receptive to my concerns and we worked very well together to negotiate a new contract with Oxitec that was more suitable to the needs of the Cayman Islands. At NO POINT during my time working with Mrs. Barnard did she propose withholding information or make any attempt to deceive the public.

    With regard to Oxitec itself, I do have reservations about its effectiveness but I do believe it is worth further evaluation as (should it be proven to be effective) it would be of great benefit to public health in the Cayman Islands and the region as a whole. Any new contract however should be made on the terms that are most beneficial to the Cayman islands and provide us with the data that we require to reach a confident decision on its effectiveness in terms of mosquito reduction and cost-effectiveness.

    Sincerely,

    Dr. Alan Wheeler
    Assistant Director
    Cayman Islands Mosquito Research & Control Unit”

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Why do we need all this aerial spraying? Because we plugged the dykes to build concrete lots, and ruined the proven MRCU systems.

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  3. Speak now not later says:

    I am so very anxious for the cheif Officer Jennifer Ahearn to addresss the many issues plaguing her ministry. After all she is making a substantial salary as a civil servant and accepted the responsibility she is being paid for. WE WANT ANSWERS.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Isn’t that an impressive logwood jungle gym she erected at the Field of Dreams tho?
      I guess that was an example of best practices and value for money, when it came to using the $80,000 of funds donated by the public.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    The High School library has NO COMPUTERS. Please shift that $600,000 to our students!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Is this the same Nancy Barnard that was the director of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands some years ago? How the hell did she get the directorship of a scientific unit such as the MRCU?

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    • Anonymous says:

      She was asked to for an interim period between directors: https://www.caymancompass.com/2017/07/27/caymans-mosquito-chief-heads-to-miami/

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    • Anonymous says:

      Not nice. Administration is her forte.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Geez, your ignorance, and willingness to jump to conclusions, are frightening. Mrs Barnard is the deputy chief officer of the ministry. She was seconded to the MRCU as acting director after Bill Petrie left, in a temporary capacity, until a new director could be appointed. Is that simple enough for you to comprehend? Give her some credit would you? She is not so arrogant as to think that this temporary appointment would suddenly make her a scientist. She was there mainly to sort out the admin side of the MRCU – and from what I hear, she did a bloody good job of that. She does not claim, and has never claimed, to be a scientist; and is being treated very unfairly in the press, in my opinion. Uninformed, ignorant statements like yours really make you look small-minded.

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      • Anonymous says:

        FOI and see if she kept the salary then you might be less ignorant

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      • Anonymous says:

        Bloody good job indeed old chappy and hockey sticks with cups of tea.
        Just get to the point and explain the email thread. It appears to be very incriminating.
        Please stop just saying shit for the sake of saying shit.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    This is an issue which should be publicly examined. If you read the material it’s scary the level of mismanagement and confusion for such an important matter as the safety of the Caymanian people …. its also disconcerting that a civil servant would “attack” a media house editorial board in the fashion the marl road is stating … civil servants are suppose to be ‘civil’. Again the material speaks for itself, there is a lot of backtracking on what ‘he said/she said’ and Dr Wheeler is the only one the evidence demonstrates displayed transparency, honesty and professional ethics. Interesting how he was not asked to act in the interim period instead a completely non qualified person lacking sound professional judgement was put in who evidently mucked up the situation for the worse and was clearly not up to the job.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Editorial boards should be held accountable as well.

      As should Barnard, Petrie and the others involved.

      Unfortunately, this is a PUBLIC health issue.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    So nice of Oxitec to provide jobs for young Caymanians.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    I am not doubting Ms. Barnard’s integrity but it would be interesting to know the set of circumstances that resulted in the email being written.
    I cannot see Ms. Barnard coming up with this of her own volition.
    Hopefully, a really independent investigation will root out the real players in this fiasco.

    Democratic governments of the world need to learn that they are civil servants, not thuggish dictators who know what is best for us without bothering to ask our opinion.

    Bring your electorate into the discussions early on and you will never find yourselves needing to tell lies, since the facts will already be out in the open.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Have you read the entire FOI emails release. Trust me I understand if you have not because they are hundreds of pages! In those emails and the statement yesterday is Dr. Wheelers acknowledgement that what Barnard was saying was he could not tell the public that it was not their (mosquitoes Unit) report because that would just not be true.

      The report was released by NCC in October last year it is available to see online and it is called the MRCU annual report June 2017 and has the government crest. What I have read and heard shows the mosquitoes Unit had an agreement with Oxitec to work on the report content together in their steering group meetings. But the end result was that the report was owned by MRCU and is on government crest paperhead. Dr wheeler and the other scientist Mr Fraser signed off on the report and Dr. Petrie by phone.

      Why in October did Dr. Wheeler say it was written by Oxitec when he signed off on it in June when Dr. Petrie was the director there? Mrs. Barnard was not even there then. Looks like Dr. Wheeler didn’t like the amount of input Oxitec was allowed to make and that is also a concern for many people. But that is not the same as it being written by Oxitec. Perhaps Dr. Wheeler thought they put so much into it that it was actually written by them but then MRCU put the government crest and submitted it to NCC as their report which is what Mrs. Barnard was going by. From what I have read The advice Mrs. Barnard was giving was was that wasn’t the right thing to do because it would be denying that it was MRCU annual report.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Crest but no signatures. Who had the authority to sign off on this report and why is there no signature or statement that it was written by Oxitec?

      • Anonymous says:

        Some interesting points here. I am having difficulty understanding how and why Petrie signed off by phone. Where did this information come from? How exactly do you sign off by phone (did he read it by phone as well?). Who was the phone call with and did they make a written record of the confirmation of sign-off by Dr. Petrie? Why did Dr. Petrie not just email confirmation so that there would at least have been a record for the public to see? Did Petrie follow up by providing a signed version of the report upon his return? Are there any signatures on the report? If it was written by Oxitec why is the report on Government Crested paperhead (would that be legal?). The more you read about this the crazier it sounds.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The methodology of calculating and stating the suppression rate last year was deemed to be faulty and unscientific by MRCU. Catching 1.7 mosquitos per trap per week versus 1.3 mosquitos pre-experiment, is so statistically unreliable that it doesn’t necessarily mean the experiment failed. Has anyone bothered to ask how many serviced traps were used, where and how deployed, or if they were even in the test release areas?

    MRCU have stated they are going to try harder to collect better data via standing contracts with Oxitec thru the end of 2018 before deciding whether to renew. Properly measuring efficacy is important not just for Cayman, but for the global habitat range of the Aedis Aegypti. Oxitec will also want to have reliable data they can publish.

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    • Anonymous says:

      This has to be the most balanced and intelligent comment on this thread and straight away, it gets three thumbs down for a kick off.
      For Heaven’s sake, read what the poster said.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    It says the “trial” may have failed. This means the project needs to be continuous. No one said this would get rid of mosquitos but try to bring down the aedes aegypti breed because of the diseases they carry. This also means you will still be bitten by other females from other breeds, and there is around 8 different types of mosquitos. I dont work for oxitec or MRCU but I know this because I learned this is school 10 years ago.

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    • Anonymous says:

      wrong. Everyone of them (Premier, Ministry, MRCU) said it was the best thing since slice bread. What is worst they implied in all public discussions that unless Cayman did this we would all go to hell in a hand basket.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Where I live in West Bay, I can anecdotally state we’ve significantly less day and night-biting mosquitos than we had last year. Maybe it’s the fogging, or education on habitat removal, the breeding experiment, airborne pellets or spray…I can’t definitively pin it on any specific method, except to say, it’s much improved – and to the MRCU, I say thank you for that! This is a battle that is never over, and every arrow in the quiver needs to be used.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Yes they do have names and top of the list is probably Jennifer “ahem” when anyone makes sense out of paragraph 5 please let us know. A bunch of jumbo jumbo crap. All I and I presume the rest of the population want to know is how much the rollout cost us, did it reduce any mosquitoes,what is the percentage of reduction, and most importantly, how dangerous was this to our health? On a scale of one to ten are we now safer health wise than we were before all the genetic releasing. Oh, by the way, how many vastly different jobs has Nancy Bernard held in the last ten years? She seems to move around faster than the mosquitoes!

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    • Anonymous says:

      If you were personally acquainted with Nancy Barnard you wouldn’t have made such a stupid statement.

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    • Stand-up-and-be-counted says:

      The ignorance of some posters on this forum often astounds me. It should be easy enough to get Mrs Barnard’s name right, as it’s spelled correctly in the article, but you can’t even manage that. If you actually bothered to check your facts, you would see that Mrs Barnard has had one job since she was employed by government; after spending about ten years in her previous job. She is the Deputy Chief Officer of a ministry. The post hasn’t changed, even though the ministry may have been renamed after the Ozzy driftwood fiasco. Mrs Barnard is still in the same job, even though she may have been seconded to the MRCU to help sort out a department that was in disarray. Ask anyone who works at the MRCU (yes, actually do some fact-checking instead of spouting ignorant bullsh*t), and they will tell you, to a person, that Nancy fixed what was broken in that department. I have known Mrs Barnard for about twenty years, and she is a woman of unwavering integrity, honesty and openness. I was appalled to see how she was maligned in the rag that the Cayman Compass has become (Cayman’s own version of Fox News – How I long for the days of Brian Uzzell and responsible journalism). I only hope that the editors of the Compass have the decency to issue a public apology for the spurious comments they made about her. You should be ashamed of yourself.

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    • Mokes-for-all says:

      I feel I must step up and defend Nancy Barnard from this ignorant person. I agree with 8.42 – if you are going to insult somebody, the least you can do is get their name right. Yes, you may see Mrs Barnard’s name in the media a lot, and related to different subject matters, but that has nothing to do with a person changing jobs. Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world”, and Nancy is the personification of that statement. She has been involved (directly and indirectly, in a professional capacity and as a volunteer) in creating programmes for at-risk youth in Cayman, programmes in both boys’ and girls’ homes, men and women’s prisons. She has been involved in the mentorship programme for many years, and was instrumental in the creation of Cayman’s first Cultural and Heritage Policy. She is someone who is prepared to roll up her sleeves and get involved, and is excellent at fixing things that are not working the way they should be. You should be glad, and feel grateful, to have a person of her calibre in the civil service. I ask the poster: What have you done for your community, besides sit on your arse and slag off people who are doing their level best to make Cayman a better place?

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  13. Observer says:

    “…prepared by MRCU in conjunction with Oxitec” sounds a little like fudging.

    In any case, should Oxitec have had anything to do with the report with $8 million at stake?

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    • Anonymous says:

      If it was prepared by MRCU who prepared it? If it was Petrie why did he need to sign off on it by phone; just sign it when you write it. If it was Wheeler why did he question it? Was it the other guy; if so why has he not said so?

  14. Anonymous says:

    So was the report formulated by Oxitec?

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  15. Anonymous says:

    Wonder what sin one has to commit to reincarnate as a mosquito…because I’m game.

    – Who

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  16. Anonymous says:

    Mila de Mier — a 45-year-old activist from Key West, Florida who opposed the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes — was found dead in a swimming pool at a hotel in Washington D.C..

    De Meir was visiting D.C. to deliver a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency demanding the agency deny a permit for the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes in Florida and Texas.
    Oxitec was the company trying to release the gmo mozzies in this case.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Get out yer tin foil hats!

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      • Anonymous says:

        Someone has an opinion that implies subterfuge is at work and all you can say is , “Get out yer tin foil hats”.
        Is that all you have to offer?
        Did you bother to research the claim? Do you have information that you can provide that can enlighten us otherwise?
        When you have something better than “get yer tin foil hats out”, please enlighten us, but that is simply puerile and not good enough.
        Please be a little more responsible with your public comments.

        In spite of my mild rebuke, I wish you well. We are all in this game together. Only truth sets us free.

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        • Anonymous says:

          Not everything is a conspiracy, but I see you live for it. Please turn off Alex Jones and take of the tin foil hat.

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  17. Dwene Ebanks says:

    I wish I could laugh at this. Ms. Benard, we know you were brought in to take on this mess with our infamous knight and shining armour, Dr. Petrie, abandoning ship. People with higher pay grades than you, Dr. Petrie and the team from Oxitec that he nursed, pushed and stood with are accountable for this. We know who is who and where it all starts and ends.

    I will say this: perhaps Dr. Wheeler should be affirmed for standing with his integrity not scorned. Further, if the Deputy Gov. seek a first class civil service then psychological safety for all civil servants will be necessary when then proffer their views, even those against the grain. Speaking truth to power for all our public officers is crucial in transparency and accountability.

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  18. Trust but verify says:

    This is reminiscent of another case of the client getting cushy with the consultant for mutual gain. MRCU get the glory for finding a silver bullet and Oxitec/Intrexon get their IPO.
    Another Bre-X level scandal in the making. Plain and simple this amounts to defrauding of the Cayman people especially the wood be guinea pigs in West Bay.
    Next I suppose we’ll be hearing that XXXXXX didn’t realise the tests were inconclusive so again we have another CIG department with no accountability.
    The man in charge at the time has now flown the coop so the surely the finger pointing has ramped up recently. I sure hope someone goes down for this insanity.

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  19. Anonymous says:

    I Googled “officials” on the CIG website – too many hits – do these “officials” have names?

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    • Anonymous says:

      All appear to be marionettes for one seeming deplorable, the so called “Honorable” Alden McLaughlin.

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