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Greens ask board which genes added to cows

The Dairy Board must give more public detail of its big shift towards genetic engineering, including whether human genes are to be added to cows, Green Party Agriculture Spokesperson Ian Ewen-Street said today.

Late last year the board's general manager of research and development Dr Kevin Marshall, in an official board publication, mooted adding human genes to cows.

Today the board announced spending an extra $150 million over the next five years on biotechnology research, including a "move into genetic manipulation".

Mr Ian Ewen-Street, an organic farmer based in Marlborough, said farmers and consumers had a right to much more information, as the board was starting out on a major new pathway with huge ramifications for New Zealand's reputation as a "clean, green" agricultural producer.

"Does the board have a mandate from its owner-shareholders to embark upon a project so clearly contrary to the general will of New Zealanders and with such high associated risks? Overseas markets for genetically engineered products are collapsing at the same time as the markets for organic products are expanding exponentially," Mr Ewen-Street said. "We need a risk assessment urgently, for example into a danger of public backlash against genetically engineered products the board plans to produce."

In an article headed "Biotech Future" in the board's publication "December Review", the board's Dr Marshall strongly backed genetic engineering, saying the article "outlines his vision for the future".

His article said: ""For the dairy industry, the goals of genetic engineering of mammary glands include strategies for changing milk composition to enhance cheese yield, to reduce the energy cost of milk production and to reduce the microbial load in milk. One of the most ambitious schemes proposed so far is to alter the composition of bovine milk so that it resembles human milk by eliminating some bovine milk protein genes and replacing others with coding sequences derived from human genes."

Mr Ewen-Street said today, "The board must come clean and confirm whether or not this is the general proposal they are forcing New Zealanders and especially farmers to sign up to, to the tune of $150 million. I would also like to see arguments as to why this money isn't being used to promote the higher value products which come from organic farming. Putting human DNA, or any non-bovine genes, into cows is a highly contentious act. The board is starting on a very risky path indeed."

Ends

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