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GE cows threaten NZ food supply

1 July 2005

GE cows threaten NZ food supply

An Agresearch proposal for a commercial joint venture production of lactoferrin could see the left over GE milk products sold to New Zealanders, Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons warned today.

"The lactoferrin extracted from the milk will be only a tiny part - maybe a thousandth - of the total volume. Which begs the question: 'What does the company plan to do with the rest? Is it planning to introduce the rest of its GE milk into the public food supply?"

Left over milk from the Ruakura research GE cows currently has to be disposed of on site, but the quantities produced in a commercial operation will be much larger

"Surely Agresearch doesn't need to be reminded that the New Zealand public remains adamantly opposed to consuming GE milk products. Fonterra will not touch anything GE so Agresearch would have to create a whole new marketing organisation, or find a way to dispose of large amounts of GE milk and get approval for that disposal," Ms Fitzsimons said.

The proposal raises many other questions that need answering.

Åú New Zealand is already the largest world producer of natural lactoferrin from cows' milk. What is wrong with the current product? What evidence is there that human-style lactoferrin from GE cows would be any better?

Åú It appears that Agresearch will be competing with Fonterra and attempting to undercut its market for natural lactoferrin. Is this an economic benefit for New Zealand? Are CRIs not supposed to add value to our primary industries instead of competing with them?

Åú The company claims it has done "extensive testing". Will all the data from these tests be released for public scrutiny before the products are approved for human consumption? Or will they be suppressed as "commercially confidential" as so much GE food data has been?

Åú The main opportunity for growth in the international market for lactoferrin is as a health food supplement. If there are no great problems with natural lactoferrin, what is the likelihood of persuading health-conscious consumers to accept a more expensive GE product instead?

Åú How many GE cows will be needed? It seems unlikely that Agresearch will be able to produce enough milk to satisfy a $100 million international market from the small number of cows it can keep in its Ruakura containment facility. Will Agresearch have to apply for commercial GE release to raise that many cows? That would make it the first application in New Zealand and will raise huge public debate.

"This proposal flies in the face of the recommendation of the royal commission on GM that food animals and plants should not be used to produce pharmaceuticals," Ms Fitzsimons said. "The Government has consistently refused to accept this recommendation.


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