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Survey Finds Most Floridians Support GMO Mosquitoes

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

While Florida Keys residents debate the use of genetically modified mosquitoes ahead of a November referendum, a new survey finds that a majority of Floridians supports the concept.

And a group of Pinellas County elected officials has written to the U.S. health and human services secretaryasking for emergency approval to use the GMO mosquitoes in their region. Pinellas had its first case of locally acquired Zika confirmed earlier this week.

survey released Friday by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that most Floridians support the release of genetically modified mosquitoes. The phone survey was conducted between Aug. 18 and 22.

It found 40 percent of respondents "strongly favor" the release of genetically modified mosquitoes, while another 20 percent "somewhat favor" the release.

In May, a survey from the Bloomberg School of Health at Johns Hopkins University found a majority of Key Haven residents who responded — 58 percent — opposed the trial.

Key Haven, a neighborhood a few miles from Key West, is the site of what would be the first U.S. trial of the genetically modified mosquito developed by Oxitec. The mosquito is modified so that it requires tetracycline to survive. Male mosquitoes are reared in the laboratory, then released to breed with wild females. Their offspring inherit the gene and most die without reproducing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a finding of "no significant impact" for Oxitec's trial. But it still requires approval from the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.

Local opposition has led the district's board to place a non-binding referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot, asking residents of Key Haven, and of the Florida Keys as a whole, whether they want to go forward with the trial.

Monroe County has so far reported two cases of travel-acquired Zika.

The release of the Annenberg Public Policy Center survey comes on the same day that Pinellas County officials requested emergency permission to use Oxitec's mosquitoes in their area. 

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.