EPA recently received an application for an experimental use permit that would allow Oxitec, a British biotechnology company, to study the use of genetically engineered mosquitos to reduce populations of Aedes aegypti mosquitos, which can transmit several diseases of significant human health concern, such as Zika virus and dengue fever.
Oxitec plans to release genetically engineered male mosquitos on up to 6,600 acres in Harris County, Texas and Monroe County, Florida over a 24-month period to mate with wild female mosquitos. The male mosquitos will be genetically modified in a manner that causes their female offspring to die as larvae (only female mosquitos bite people), whereas male offspring would survive to become fully functioning adults with the same modifications. The objective is to provide multi-generational effectiveness so that populations of the Aedes aegypti mosquitos decline.
Oxitec is seeking an experimental-use permit under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). FIFRA requires pesticide products to undergo extensive chemical, toxicological and field-testing before the products can be registered for sale and distribution in the United States. Because testing undertaken as part of the registration process necessarily involves an “unregistered” product (or is for a use not previously approved in the registration of the pesticide), EPA sometimes must first authorize the distribution/sale of the unregistered product for testing purposes by means of an experimental-use permit under FIFRA Section 5. The experimental-use permit establishes limited conditions for the transportation, application, and disposal of the pesticide material used in the tests. Pesticides registered under an experimental-use permit may not be sold or distributed other than through approved participants in the test program, and use is limited to the conditions specified in the experimental-use permit.
EPA is soliciting public comments about Oxitec’s proposed experimental-use permit on or before Oct. 11, 2019. Public comments can be submitted to EPA Docket: EPA-HQ-OPP-2019-0274 (accessible here).