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Greens criticise unauthorised GE experiments

12 April 2000

Greens criticise unauthorised GE experiments

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said she was astounded that Otago University's Christchurch School of Medicine was conducting unauthorised genetic engineering experiments because they were unaware of approval requirements.

It was revealed this morning that the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) is investigating a series of experiments at the school which Otago University say they knew nothing about.

The experiments involved inserting genes from a number of species, including geckhos, hagfish, lamprey and tuatara, into bacteria.

Ms Fitzsimons sharply criticised the school for failing to familiarise itself with fundamental rules. "Genetic engineering is the most controversial scientific work ever undertaken in this country," she said. "It is unacceptable that so-called 'front-line scientists' are unaware of basic legal approval processes.

"The excuse of researcher Steve Brennan that they 'don't read the fine print' all of the time is ludicrous given the high level of public interest and debate over genetic engineering and the approval process," she said. "ERMA has held a number of seminars on the legal processes and runs a website. The print on this subject is in fact very large.

"The Christchurch School of Medicine have failed dismally in their scientific responsibilities. Their unawareness may stem from the view of many scientists that there is no risk in genetic engineering and the controls are a bureaucratic waste of time. This was not the view of Parliament when it passed the HASNO Act and is not the view of the public, who are demanding an inquiry and a halt to more trials until it has reported," she said.

"The risk to the public and the environment from scientists who dismiss the risks as unreal is worrying."

Ms Fitzsimons said it was unclear whether the experiments, which begun prior to the creation of ERMA, were even registered with the previous agency - the Advisory Committee on Novel Genetic Techniques.

"I am also concerned that ERMA may not be adequately monitoring how the universities and research institutes and private companies use the powers it has delegated to them," she said. "Ultimately ERMA is responsible to ensure it delegates authority only to institutions that understand their responsibilities. For example, all institutions should routinely advise all their molecular biologists of the rules they should be following."

Ends

Jeanette Fitzsimons MP: 07 868 6641 (hm), 025 586 068 Jonathan Hill (press secretary): 04 470 6719, 021 110 1133


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