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"No Approval for New GE Cows" says ERMA

"No Approval for New GE Cows" says ERMA

Plans by AgResearch to create new GE cows to produce commercial lactoferrin in partnership with Dutch company Pharming (NV) have not been given approval says Rob Forlong- the new CEO of ERMA.

Mr. Forlong says AgResearch only has approval from their Institutional Biological Safety Committee to import GE cattle semen and embryos but these must remain in the laboratory and cannot be used to inseminate or clone live cattle.

This leaves the future of the whole commercial deal with Pharming (NV) up in the air, despite Pharming (NV) reporting that a deal had been struck for AgResearch to be responsible for creating the GE cows and for commercial marketing of the GE-lactoferrin throughout Asia and the Pacific.

Responding to concerns raised by GE Free NZ (in food and environment) that the commercial project was being slipped through under a previous approval for 'scientific research', ERMA has said that they are expecting an application from AgResearch under s67A but that no such application had been recieved or approved.

“It is a relief that the approval has not be sneaked through as was feared. But GE Free knows that an application is being lodged and we want to be sure that it will be available for public viewing and full notification. We believe that the changes AgResearch are seeking are not minor but material” said Claire Bleakley of GE Free (NZ) in food and environment. “ERMA must allow full transparency of its dealing with this issue.”

GE Free NZ has questioned the ethics of the project given the findings of the Royal Commission on GM that food-relatated animals should not be used in this way, and that the project could avoid public input and scrutiny.

Further doubt about the viabilty of the project has also emerged because of the risks of soil contamination from GE cows. This is now under serious scrutiny by scientists after AgResearch reported to ERMA evidence of changes in soil bacterial populations and antibiotic resistance genes in soil at offal pits where existing GE cows have been disposed of.

Further research is due to be reported in the next few months but AgResarch have dismissed such concerns, claiming there is no evidence of Horizontal Gene Transfer into soil microbes anywhere in the world.

However, studies over the last 10 years have shown that HGT occurs frequently and ACRE the body that advises the UK Government, clearly recognise this risk.

“ACRE was also not surprised by the result that transgenic DNA persisted in the soil for up to 2 years. The soil is a repository of anything that falls into it and there will be patches where whatever falls there will be protected and other areas where such material will be degraded. If soil is looked at closely enough with enough samples and with very sensitive techniques, most things will be found including DNA”. (ACRE,2000)

GE Free NZ (in food and environment) believes that ERMA has been negligent to have waited 8 months before requiring AgResearch to improve testing for horizontal gene transfer and animal health issues. The data deserves independent peer reviewed scientific analysis and publication before further development of Tg animals occurs in New Zealand.

“ERMA must guarantee that no further GE animal are let onto the 100 acre containment facility until the full results of the tests on the soil microbes are complete and show that there has been no HGT of antibiotic resistance transgenes,” says Claire Bleakley.

The dispute is also another signal that an Independent Biotechnology Commissioner is needed to avoid commercial bias and vested interests inappropriately influencing scientific research in New Zealand.



DeVries J, Meier P and Wackernagel, (2001) The natural transformation of the soil bacteria Pseudomonas stutzeri and Acinetobacter sp. by transgenic plant DNA strictly depends on homologous sequences in the recipient cells. W. FEMS Microbiology Letters, 195, 211-5.

Kaare M. Nielsen, Ph.D., (2001), Horizontal Gene Transfer - DNA in the Soil http://www.mindfully.org/GE/GE2/Horizontal-Gene-Soil.htm

Frank Gebhard & Kornelia Smalla (1998). Transformation of Acinetobacter sp. Strain BD413 by transgenic sugar beet DNA. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 64 (4) 1550-1554.

_Frank Gebhard & Kornelia Smalla (1999). Monitoring field releases of genetically modified sugar beets for persistence of transgenic plant DNA and horizontal gene transfer. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 28, 261-272.

Horizontal Gene Transfer: Genetically Modified Crops and Soil Bacteria


Wolska,K I (2003) Horizontal DNA transfer between bacteria in the environment, Acta Microbiologica Polonica, 233-243.

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