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Community backing for legal challenge on GE Cows

Community backing for legal challenge on GE Cows as Bio Ethics Council sidelined

Moves to have a judicial review of ERMA's approval of animal experiments inserting human genes into cows has the support of GE-Free NZ (in food and environment) after the government said the experiments will not be open to scrutiny by the new Bio Ethics Council.

Papers seeking a judicial review of the decision are being lodged in the High Court by lawyers representing Mothers Against GE, but GE-Free NZ (in food and environment) believes there is broad community support for the move.

The RC recommended that the Bioethics Council is set up to have input to GE decisions. Yet the Minister for the Environment, Marian Hobbs has stated that the new Bio Ethics Council will be excluded from considering the ethical issues as the Council only has a mandate to give 'general' advice.

" It is ludicrous for the government to argue that the Bio Ethics Council should not look at the ethics of experiments impacting the future direction of the dairy industry which is so vital to the economy," says Mr. Carapiet. "The government is undermining the credibility of the Bio Ethics Council by denying them even a watching-brief on the ethical issues raised by ERMA's decision."

" All other avenues to scrutinise the experiments have been closed off," says Jon Carapiet, a spokesperson for GE-Free NZ in food and environment. "It is important that the judicial review goes ahead."

The judicial review will consider issues of law rather than ethics but will prompt further debate on the way Genetic Engineering is set to impact New Zealand's agricultural industry.

ERMA's decision to approve the unspecified generic experiments using food animals overlooked alternatives to produce proteins in contained laboratory situations with less serious ethical and environmental risks. It is noted that the Royal Commission (RCI) on GM recommended against using transgenic technology in food-animals.

ERMA's decision in effect repudiated the Royal Commission recommendation that food animals should not be used. Ms. Bleakley said " AgResearch's records on the GE cows report a 6% live birth rate, the surviving calves have organ malformations, immune system breakdowns and suffer early death. These sensitive mammals should not be manipulated in such a cruel way. It is only a matter of time before dairy farmers face the possibility of an uncontrolled spread of new pathogens created from transgenic animals through horizontal gene transfer (HGT)".

"The ERMA Authority gave no import to the alternative production of proteins using of bacteria, fungi and cell cultures. Yet GE insulin is made from bacteria in large and economic amounts to satisfy all the diabetics of the world and currently NZ Scientists are producing lactose free milk through biotechnological methods that do not use GE"" said Claire Bleakley from GE-Free NZ, who has been involved in an earlier successful legal challenge to ERMA's decision-making process.

There is also concern at what appears to be undue pressure from business to approve these type of animal experiments. Last year the news media reported Fonterra had threatened the New Zealand government that it would move $150 million of research offshore unless they got their way.

"Sadly instead of standing up to these economic threats the government and ERMA's decision-process seem to be vulnerable to such pressure from vested interests," says Mr Carapiet.

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