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Mothers Take Government To High Court Over GE Cows

Mothers Take Government To High Court Over GE Cows

MAdGE today issued proceedings in the High Court at Auckland seeking to cancel the recent decision by Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), allowing AgResearch to insert human and other animal genes into cows.

MAdGE believes that this experiment has the real potential to significantly damage the environment, the economy and our society, by releasing harmful organisms into the environment and adversely affecting our clean green and GE Free image in overseas markets. Consumers throughout Europe and Asia have overwhelmingly rejected GE produce and NZ, as an agriculturally based economy, cannot afford to jeopardise these markets.

MAdGE does not oppose GE in the safe confines of the laboratory, but supports the precautionary principle that does not allow the release of genetically engineered organisms into the food chain and the environment. This precautionary principle is enshrined in section 7 of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, which requires regulatory bodies to minimise risks and approach with caution the creation of unknown organisms.

Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, the Minister for the Environment plays a pivotal role in the risk management of new organisms. Marion Hobbs failed to exercise her statutory function when she neglected to consider this significant application and call it in, using her call in powers in s68, even though this was the first application of its kind since the Royal Commission Report on Genetic Modification.

It is also the first time in its history that ERMA has found that this experiment carries with it a significant risk of creating new diseases.

Spokeswoman for MAdGE Kate Woodd says, “As mothers we have a duty to protect our families and our environment and to ensure that it is sustainable for future generations. We are deeply concerned about the risk of creating new diseases that this experiment carries with it. This government seems hell bent on proceeding down the GE path despite growing world-wide opposition to GE and is fond of expressing the popular myth that New Zealand has one of the most rigorous regulatory systems in the world. This simply isn't the case. New Zealand's regulatory system for assessing the safety of GMOs has not been applied rigorously by the government or its regulators, as you would expect in this highly controversial area of biotechnology. ERMA has never declined an application and Marion Hobbs didn’t even bother to consider the significant issues relating to this particular application despite her legal obligation to do so.”

ERMA’s decision to give AgResesarch blanket approval to create any organism from a wide range of genetic constructs is not precautionary nor is it sound for a number of reasons.

MAdGE's Case

Marion Hobbs failed to exercise her statutory function when she neglected to consider this significant application and call it in, using her call in powers in s68 even though this was the first application of its kind since the Royal Commission Report on Genetic Modification. She also knew that ERMA lacked sufficient expertise or knowledge to deal with the mandatory ethical considerations in section 40 and 45 of the Act.

ERMA had no legal jurisdiction to hear and determine this application. AgResearch sought and got approval to create new organisms without specifying to ERMA the genetic construct of those organisms. The risks and benefits of new organisms cannot be adequately assessed unless each specific organism is first identified.

With ERMA’s approval AgResearch can release the genetically engineered cattle into the environment. Although contained by a fence, MAdGE believes this constitutes a field trial, which is currently prohibited by the moratorium. By allowing the genetically engineered cattle into the environment there is a risk of contamination of both the environment and the food chain.

The Royal Commission Report of July 2001 on which the government has relied heavily in the development of its GE policy specifically recommended the creation of a Bio-ethics council to address the significant ethical issues raised by the mixing of human and animal genes. AgResearch’s application was granted by ERMA in the absence of a Bio-ethics council or any relevant expert evidence that could have been commissioned under the Act on the mandatory ethical issues.

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