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Government has misread Royal Commission report

Government has misread Royal Commission report

The Government proved today in Parliament it has not understood the report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, whose recommendations it says it is implementing.

Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said she was horrified the Government was pressing ahead with allowing conditional release of GE, when it clearly did not have a proper grasp of the issues.

During Question time in the House today, Ms Fitzsimons asked Environment Minister Marian Hobbs why the Government was not acting on the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification's recommendation that food animals such as cattle and sheep not be used to produce pharmaceuticals. Ms Hobbs replied that the recommendation was about the use of bioreactors not about the production of pharmaceuticals.

Ms Fitzsimons said she was incredulous at the time, and immediately asked the minister to explain the difference between using an animal as a bioreactor and using one to produce pharmaceuticals, saying she understood they were one and the same.

Ms Hobbs said they were not, and told the House "a bioreactor is when you may use that animal and then eat the food from it". Ms Fitzsimons said Ms Hobbs was fundamentally wrong in her definition. "The Royal Commission's report clearly notes on page 158 that: The term 'bioreactor' can encompass the use of genetically modified microorganisms, plants or animals to produce medicines or specific proteins including vaccines.

"Pharmaceuticals are clearly medicines or specific proteins including vaccines," Ms Fitzsimons said. "This is biology 101 - not rocket science."

The report also says (page 161) that many submitters had great concern that animals used as bioreactors should be prevented from entering the food chain. The commission agreed this would seem preferable if possible, going on to say this was: in order to lessen the possibility of human health impacts ... The commission's recommendation 7.5 (page 162) states "that, wherever possible, non-food animals, or animals less likely to find their way into the food chain, be used as bioreactors rather than animals that are a common source of food."

"AgResearch is using cows as bioreactors now to produce pharmaceutical proteins, with enthusiastic Government support," Ms Fitzsimons said.

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