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Genetic engineering boosts animal tests

New Zealand's rush to embrace genetic engineering is boosting the number of tests on animals, Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.

Last year 308,562 animals were used in all research, up nearly 40 percent on the 220,990 used the previous year, according to the annual report of the National Animal Ethics Committee. The figures indicate 32.4 percent experienced "no suffering" 56 percent "little suffering", 9 percent "moderate suffering", and 2.2 percent "very severe suffering".

"Because our regulatory authorities allow genetic experiments to proceed in laboratories without a public hearing process, we don't have official numbers on what percentage of the rise is caused by biotechnology," Ms Fitzsimons said. "Public input is allowed only for field trials and proposed commercial releases of genetically engineered animals and crops.

"But I know, sometimes from anonymous tip offs, that the number of animals used in genetic engineering research in crown research institutes is burgeoning."

Little is known of the plight of animals in most experiments until applications are made for field tests, such as in the case of AgResearch's efforts at Ruakura, Hamilton, to put human genes into dairy cows and human protein into milk, Ms Fitzsimons said.

"Taxpayers spent more than $450,000 for an experiment to create deformed mice which were tested before trying to take similar DNA out of cows and replacing it with human genes."

As AgResearch says in its own summary of the test: "The most striking effect arising from deletion of the STAT5b gene in mice is the loss of sexual dimorphism in body growth rates and liver gene expression. In addition, mammary development is impaired in the STAT5b-deficient mice and very little milk is produced after parturition. Other phenotypic effects include reduced fatness, changes in hair growth, and abortion before day 17 of pregnancy."

According to Ms Fitzsimons: "It is a sad fact that we do not know how cows and other animals are faring in similar but confidential laboratory experiments."

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