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Departing Scientists' Complaints 'Unreasonable'

8 May 2001

Public demands for greater regulation of science justified as US reveals human genetic modification has begun.

The revelation that genetically modified humans can be created and hidden from scientific scrutiny for 4 years has shocked people around the world and led to demands for greater scrutiny of genetic research. After shelving legislation for years the New Zealand government is fast-tracking new laws at the same time the decision by the High Court to overturn ERMA's decision has cast doubt over the fate of cows with human genes.

The crisis over the controls needed to protect the public interest has brought some scientists out of their labs complaining about over-strict regulations. "They have a short memory,” said Susie Lees, a spokesperson from GE-Free NZ_-" only last year hundreds of unauthorised experiments
were found to be going on in crown research establishments and universities, all avoided prosecution."

The recent resignation of Phil D'Huillier, a staunch advocate for the rapid introduction of genetic engineering, the timing raising questions about the real reasons for his departure. It is believed that of the 60 cows impregnated, only 11 foetuses are still viable. The statements from agriculture minister Jim Sutton indicate these cows relate to farming and genetically modified dairy products, which New Zealanders have rejected, more than medical research. " The public need stronger protection from any experimentation in the open environment which science has shown carries huge risks. The reputation of our agricultural production and exports is also at risk, and in turn threatens our economy. No-one in the world wants to eat GM dairy foods,” says
Susie. New Zealand is striving for a knowledge economy and ethical use of advanced technology in containment must be managed if it is not to destroy our clean and green image .The experiment with copies of human genes in cows is the most extreme and damaging research
imaginable because of its impact on our position in the global market. It is unreasonable for scientists to complain over the necessary controls on such work when much of it is publicly funded. Biotech companies are struggling to find sufficient funds from the corporate world, and are focusing on government funding and overseas joint ventures with countries like the UK (PPL Therapeutics have an approval for 10,000 sheep with human genes) who would not be able to experiment with human genes in farm animals and resultant meat and dairy products for
fear of huge public outcry.

"The Royal Commission has investigated the serious ethical and scientific questions being raised and for which civil society is demanding questions: How many human genes can be copied into farm animals before they become defined as genetically modified humans? Will they be considered "substantially equivalent" as is GE food. Will they be entitled to rights, under the Human Rights Act? If that is the case, humanely destroying them may present its own unique ethical and legal problems".

ENDS

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