Minister claims GM mosquitoes didn’t work

| 23/11/2018 | 60 Comments
Cayman News Service

The Oxitec van that carried the GM mosquitoes

(CNS): The environmental health minister, who has responsibility for the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU). has said the release of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in West Bay did not work and has confirmed that when the Oxitec contract formally ends on 31 December, that will be “the last you hear about Oxitec being paid by government”. Answering questions in Finance Committee on Thursday night, Dwayne Seymour said that the project “wasn’t getting the results that we thought we could get”, and if not for the “good MRCU director, Dr Jim, we would have never have known about it”.

Following an ambiguous press release from the MRCU and Oxitec ten days ago that danced around the situation and implied that work with the controversial bio-engineered insects might continue in the future, the minister said that the project was not effective and it was only because of the arrival of a new director at MRCU, Dr Jim McNelly, that the ministry learned that it was not working.

Seymour said the bio-engineering firm had wanted to try a different method after the one involving the release of sterile male mosquitoes had not really worked but. However, the minister said he was uncomfortable with that as he had never been happy about the project in the first place.

He said that using another method would have been using Caymanians as guinea pigs and putting people at risk when “we don’t know what was going on”.

Seymour confirmed that government spent a total of CI$580,000 for the work done during this budget cycle, which he said was a lot of money, but he was not clear when asked by opposition member Chris Saunders (BTW) if the department had learned anything from the failed project.

The minister told the committee that he wished he could say more about what had happened, but said he would “leave it at that”, in a further cryptic reference to the project, which over the last two years has seen millions of the GM mosquitoes released in a location in West Bay.

The project had originally been heavily championed by all of the district MLAs and the premier when he was in control of the unit. Government even spent tens of thousands of dollars successfully fighting local activists who had object to it because of their concerns over the experimental nature of the project, the environmental and public health risks it posed, as well as the lack of proven efficacy.

The previous MRCU director, Dr Bill Petrie, who headed up the unit for decades before he recently moved to Florida to take over the Miami-Dade Mosquito Control Division, had been a staunch advocate of the trials. He had warned that battling the invasive and dangerous Aedes aegypti was becoming increasingly problematic as it was evermore resistant to larvacides.

Unlike Cayman’s various native mosquitoes that live largely in the swap and are controlled through aerial pellet drops, the Aedes aegypti breeds in and around urban areas, close to humans, already making it harder to tackle. But with a dwindling number of effective insecticides, Petrie had warned that the MRCU would soon run out of options unless it tried something new.

Having watched the development of the science of GM bugs by the original Oxitec company, a spin-off from the research work done at Oxford University, Petrie invited the researchers to conduct a pilot study in Cayman as far back as 2010, which appeared to be very successful.

However, in 2015 Oxitec was bought by the US-based synthetic biology firm, Intrexon Corporation, which was a much more commercial organisation that sought to profit from the technology, despite a number of challenges remaining around efficacy and the release of higher numbers than claimed of the female engineered mosquitoes, which could bite.

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Category: environmental health, Government Finance, Health, Politics

Comments (60)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    (*testing for decent)

  2. Anonymous says:

    (*bracing for quick decent*)

    “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence”. A man by the name of Nassim Nicolas Taleb once said that.

    I’ve estimated that if every Caymanian child read all his books and did 20% of the things he suggests the Cayman Islands would become a super-country by the time 50% of those children were adults.

    Sadly, humans think from a place of arrogance when it comes to nature. All this “tawk” continues as Cayman ticks along but ONLY from human perspectives. And we are even so conceited we think the things that are of nature must happen within our own human time frames (1 year, 24 months, 5 year cycles etc.) It is baffling to see us continue to hastily make decisions for our so-called betterment based on current beliefs, present convictions and temporary “evidence”, especially where nature is concerned.

    We must continually remember we are a smaller part of a bigger thing. Humility is prudent. Locally however, it is as if we actually believe nature cares about our own viewpoint on the matter – our own desires for the specific kinds of results we’d like to see in 6 months or so. I don’t understand everything nor necessarily need to personally to know things are much better at the moment than they could be. If she wanted me gone I’d be dead already so I believe nature is on our side and responds to us, but in her own way and time [also] via prayer, meditation etc. She [too] is no respecter of persons.

    Why can’t we just humble ourselves and choose to be thankful for the opportunity we’ve had over the past few years to have good people willing to conduct research here in Cayman in the effort to make it better. They tried to meet the requirements of the contract with government to alleviate our discomforts and concerns and, with great effort.

    Scientists don’t know everything, can’t predict everything – they are trying to find out. That’s why they become scientists in the first place. What if Thomas Edison or the others gave up or were some how halted because a committee or a board somewhere didn’t see the kind of results they wanted to see in 12 months?

    Consider this also: what if the very efforts from Oxitec in the course of 2016 – 2017 ends up resulting in the triumph of this particular island over deadly mosquito incursions that happens to the rest of the world in the year 2029 or 2063?

    In the preceding paragraph I could’ve easily written a negative outcome for those future years – but deliberately chose not to.

    Here is why. I understand and empathise with those who fear deeply when humans fiddle with nature, with things we don’t fully yet understand but I also believe in the human spirit to be willing to do the right thing – even when we don’t.

    Love is the answer (as usual). And scientists who love their families want to protect them too. They have WAY MORE skin in the game than us who can easily sit at our computers reading through the comments to cherry-pick problems to address and bicker online.

    Let us remember that we are talking about PEOPLE who are trying to make the world better for their OWN families too – even though they may work for a corporation out to profit.

    Cayman, we need to be prudent but also thankful for things we cannot see, the things which are also good, which have also been set in motion by people who just wanted Cayman to be a better place, irregardless of job duties, government contracts, or what the general public CURRENTLY thinks (irregardless of what we call evidence or lack thereof).

    To all those who keep promoting the negatives that this project and others (Dart, Dump, Cruise Port, etc) could possibly have on the Cayman Islands I say CHOOSE TO THINK, BELIEVE AND SAY ONLY THE GOOD THINGS ABOUT THEM AND ABOUT CAYMAN’S FUTURE.

    Yes you read that right. I’m telling you what to think. What to believe for. And what to only say on those flapping lips that never seem to stop. Test my humble words and prove it for yourselves. The FUTURE will be just as you have thought in your hearts.

    And while your at it…

    (*bracing for quick 90 degree left turn*)

    Actually do the damn SPEAKING TO RICE EXPERIMENTS if you haven’t;

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31shlv5Z71A

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvShgttIq7I

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1sWVjXhKfg

    Nature is not only conscious, it is on your side Cayman, eagerly hoping for the best for you. The work at Oxitech may be done. But choose to believe the future might not be as grim as it used to be because of them. I say choose to believe the positive because of family and because of love and because the local leaders at Oxitec care about their families too. I’m talking about real flesh and blood and you know it matters.

    (*adjusting for slow 90 degree right turn*)

    In the annals of history did we not fare far better in the future than other places that didn’t because of our kindness to certain strangers, our tolerance as country with the sons and daughters of the powerful and mighty across the earth and heir kindness in return to us? Did not the blessings continually come because of devotion and the prayers of our founding fathers and mothers? I say yes.

    I also say, Cayman, you too are your own rice experiment.

    May love continue to surround you.

    (*bracing for blink of an eye accent*)

  3. Off! says:

    Problem was all the ganja fumes killed off the modified mosquitoes.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Lawsuits arising from the admission that this experiment did not work and as a result persons getting cancer will cost this government dearly n the future.

  5. Sucka Free Cayman says:

    Like I repeated over and over stop using oxitec which was sold to intrexon in 2014 for 160 million our great premier and his wbay political pioneer were praising this hocus pocus rubbish along with the whole of the ministry and as for you naysayers there is a recent article pointing out the weaponizing of insects by DARPA but once those from the motherland says it’s ok all is well in this little utopia for them aaaah Cayman our colonial mentality rides again. Stupidity is contagious and our Government infection rate is high a lawsuit might just be the cure to that problem and expose the source of infection.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Several issues here:

    XXXX

    4) It’s sad that Government spent the people’s money to fight the people. Government should reimburse those among us that were vigilant enough to fight. The reimbursement should be from Government’s social fund (no Christmas parties, no bonuses, no entertainment, XXXX

    5) Directors should have a term limit of 5 years so as to allow fresh and enquiring minds to take over routinely. It’s nice the post is not reserved for Caymanians as with no political affiliations, we see how freely Dr. McNelly could speak. He may have been threatened to resign and expose them if they did not discontinue the program — just a assumption. I hope they don’t sack him before 5 yrs.

    6) Is another program now required to determine the effects of the program on human? Flint USA comes to mind. If one is required, it would be money well spent based on what I saw in Flint but the Firm should not be a spin–off of Oxitec (still sucking our bloods). The firm should most likely be from the Caribbean (some very competent Doctors are in the region, in particular Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad, etc.) — they’ll charge less and with great determination to prove themselves against a major US firm, Oxitec.

    I could go on and on but I’ll end by saying, the solution for a lot of our problems are within our regional capabilities. The things we take from the US is killing us slowly: Their food, medicines/vaccinations, guns, drugs, so called expertize because they speak well and with fancy technology intending to impress only; however, most North Americans and Europeans have never lived in our region or another tropical climate long enough to experience our issues in order to prescribe solutions — not saying some of their solutions are no good but we should always be skeptic as only then will we do our due diligence.

    Jack

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  7. Anonymous says:

    It was only because of the arrival of a new director at MRCU, Dr Jim McNelly, that the ministry learned that it was not working. How did the ministry not know it was not working when the rest of the world did? Do ministry not listen to their own scientists? Read the article below to see what the ministry knew but chose to ignore.

    http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/Failed_in_the_field_fin.pdf

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    • Anonymous says:

      That report is very interesting and shows the concerns MRCU scientists had about the Oxitec experiment for a considerable amount of time. Their voices went unheard despite the questions they were raising. Their concerns now appear to have been valid Why have these scientists not been called in front of the LA or finance committee to tell what really happened with Oxitec?

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Now you all believe Jon Jon? LOL.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Voting Jon Jon in again was a stupid mistake, putting him in charge of the Health Ministry was even a bigger mistake!!! He doesn’t know how to run a country let alone make decisions!!

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    • Anonymous says:

      And that honest but reckless statement by Jon Jon just opened the CI government to a shit load of claims when there is a spike in cancer in the next three years.

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    • Anonymous says:

      You don’t really expect the Minister to know what is going on do you?even if they try to tell him he won’t grasp it. I am still wondering how he managed to grab that portfolio?

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  9. Anonymous says:

    either way you spin it….its just more civil service incompetence….

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  10. Anonymous says:

    “Minister claims GM mosquitoes didn’t work” but the dishonest press think they did, because they worship any form of science.
    Good comeuppance for the press because they were all over this fake science as though it were a replacement for sliced bread.
    You deserve it.
    All we want is truth, not agenda. If you cannot deliver, get another job.

    CNS: Cayman News Service reported extensively on all sides of this, including the objections, and will continue to do so.

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  11. GOAB 4th Flr says:

    Dr. Petrie, Jennifer Ahearn Chief Officer and her Deputy Nancy Bernard have to take all the credit for this contract and the failures. The Minister Dwayne Seymour is the usual empty vessel no different from Osborne Bodden reading whatever is put in front of him and understanding absolutely nothing about his ministry and subjects.

    The lack of accountability with senior officials particularly those that run ministries CO, Deputies, CFO’s leads to expensive contracts and mistakes. If the Deputy Governor and Office of the Auditor General continue to protect persons by failing to expose the core issues and hold those persons accountable. The circus will continue and public funds are squandered. But at least the DG 5K is well organized.

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    • Anonymous says:

      The problem is the minister in question doesn’t read anything that is put in front of him (much like the leader up north). Can someone submit an FOI request to reveal how much time he actually spends at work, and what he does with all the time when he is not at work? Don’t blame the civil servants. They are doing their best with the time and resources they have at their disposal. They do not claim to be experts in subjects outside of their fields, and rely on guidance from the so-called experts. Unfortunately they are delivered sub-par ministers most of the time.

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    • Anonymous says:

      At least Ozzie could read, this one barely mumbles.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    What has happened to all the super bugs that were released both male and female? What are the implications for the species that consumed these GMO’s? Who will look into this?

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  13. Anonymous says:

    Dr. Petrie has a lot of questions to answer. Why did he push for an $8 million contract to release the mosquito all over Grand Cayman? Why did he tell people it worked? Why did he state that the chemicals used to control the mosquito did not work? Why did he leave for Florida if he had such faith in this technology?

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Well Zika went away pretty quickly after…

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  15. Meagan Hull says:

    Dr. Jim McNelly:

    You are someone I would sincerely like to meet and personally thank. We in the Florida Keys have been researching this technology and following the developments very, very closely. I hold the title of Treasurer of Citizens for Safe Science, since 2016, and am a founding member of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, since 2010. Our own elected officials, specifically our Chairman of Florida Keys Mosquito Control, have been trying to force this technology on our community for nearly ten years. We currently continue to fight them- our our government officials – the very people entrusted with protection of our health and environmental interests. A decision from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pending. This timely press release makes me so very, very thankful that someone in a position of authority had the courage to come forward and go public.

    Thank you emphatically, to the Cayman News Service, for providing facts for the benefit of the common good, something our own local newspaper cannot accomplish.
    In overwhelming gratitude after years of advocacy, and in memory of the late Mila Demier, we thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Meagan T. Hull
    Florida Keys, U.S.A.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    …so the lawyers challenging the releases may have been right all along? How much did government spend fighting that case?

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  17. Anonymous says:

    Your government despises you but loves your money. And sadder for you, they REALLY love expat money.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    Money done, deal done. So we the community is left with the mosquitos to eat our rumps.

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  19. Anonymous says:

    So all those mosquito’s biting my ass in the middle of the day wasn’t in my dreams, well kiss my neck I just got woken up, damn another one just bit me.

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  20. Anonymous says:

    BS, As a West Bayer I feel it worked. There is barely any aedes aegypti anymore. Before this project they were a nuisance to anyone in the watercourse and hell road vicinity. Anyway you could atleast tell them thanks for trying to help stop the spreading of an invasive species that doesnt belong in Cayman.

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  21. Kattina Anglin says:

    “using Caymanians as Guinea pigs…”

    There’s so much I want to say right now, but I will absorb the magnitude of all this before saying anything more than “it’s a shame that our concerns for the people of country were so easily dismissed, the violations so easily justified and the outcome now so disastrously threatening; the future implications cannot be dismissed because you have proven this much so far: you were lied to and the government was gravely wrong”.

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    • Anon says:

      ” You were lied to and the government was gravely wrong”. Wouldn’t you say that is normal for CIG?

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  22. land crab says:

    I hear they were all killed off by the ganja smoke.

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  23. anonymous says:

    Maybe we should try releasing some genetically modified Christmas tree bugs.

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  24. Anonymous says:

    Happy that Government finally realized this. This was just a waste of money.

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  25. Anonymous says:

    Lol you cant make this shit up. Boy we fool.

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  26. Anonymous says:

    What a woeful web we weave, when we set out to deceive”.

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  27. Anonymous 101 says:

    I think that I told the people that those GM mosquitoes wouldn’t have worked and Government’s money was just released a long with GM mosquitoes.
    What would the genetically modified mosquitoes have been able to have done ? that is just like genetically modifying the human . Man can’t do it like the great creator of man/woman kind . See what is happening in the world today by man trying to modify human .

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  28. Anonymous says:

    Awww wonk wonk wonk…..wasting government money once again. On to the next failure.

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  29. Anonymous says:

    I recall the scientists at MRCU stating in a long chain of emails that the project did not work over a year ago.

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  30. Anonymous says:

    It didn’t work means it worked, just not as effective as desired for the cost.

    It doesn’t mean that it mutated us or collapsed the ecosystem like what a certain duo were trying to assert it would do.

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  31. Anonymous says:

    Good. We survived with no consequences other than financial. yet. Send them on their way. There are richer countries Oxitec might bamboozle.

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  32. Anonymous says:

    Money made deal done.

  33. Concerned says:

    Thanks to them, I believe, the mosquitoes have become more aggressive and harder to kill.

    I think we set ourselves up, playing around with nature!

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    • Anonymous says:

      Someone dies everytime I eat cheesecake.

      Therefore, we can safely assume that cheesecake kills.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Wrong

    • Anonymous says:

      Speaking as someone who never got bitten or even noticed a mozzie on them, after the release I’m certain they got bigger and landed on me more frequently than before when I was in WB. Certainly not a scientific argument just my observations…

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