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1000s of 'animal bioreactor' sheep for slaughter

Time to rethink ‘animal bioreactors’ as thousands of sheep set for slaughter

The decision to slaughter the PPL experimental sheep is a regrettable outcome of flawed science, and misleading claims to investors, by sectors of the biotech industry. Concern for the animals to be humanely destroyed, and safely disposed of in ways that will not contaminate soil or the environment, remain the duty of ERMA.

The Biotech industry have pushed overseas for meat from experimental animals to be sold as food, but any attempt to have that happen here is completely unacceptable. The PPL sheep must not be allowed to enter the food chain.

However the disappointment amongst parents of sick children, sold on the idea that these sheep would cure their children, needs also to be addressed. Parents do not seem to have been told that clinical trials of the chemical to be mass-produced in the sheep had already failed some years ago.

This failure is likely to have prompted investor-concern about PPL’s business, though the parents continued to defend the production of these GE sheep and it appears they had not been told of the failed trials.

It is time the biotech industry considered the more ethical alternatives to using mammals as factories for Pharmaceuticals.

As well as research into prevention of disease, alternative research should be funded that avoids the unethical and cruel abuse of animals, and presents less bio-security risk by keeping organisms in contained labs.

Independent scientists have suggested use of yeasts and fungi could be a real alternative for research into production of complex proteins and it is time these alternatives are considered. The Royal Commission on GM recommended alternatives to use of food-animals as “ bioreactors”, should be explored.

This redirection of research in New Zealand could offer the benefits of ethical gene technology to our “knowledge economy” without sacrificing our environment, brand image, or basic human values.

The decline of PPL and other companies in the biotech sector is starting to resemble the demise of the companies and it is vital that cowboy-science is now replaced by ethical science aimed at genuine understanding and not just quick profits.

Background: Hamilton, July 16 NZPA - The Scottish biotech company behind the world's first cloned sheep has confirmed it will slaughter sheep carrying human genes farmed in Waikato.

PPL Therapeutics, which became famous in 1996 after it cloned Dolly the sheep, began New Zealand's first field trial of genetically modified animals in 1996.

It inserted human genes into sheep at its 170ha Whakamaru research farm with the aim of producing the human protein AAT in sheep's milk which can be used in medicines to treat cystic fibrosis and emphysema.

However, the work was put on hold after its partner, German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, pulled the plug on the trials, saying they were too costly. PPL said yesterday it was to slaughter up to 3000 genetically modified sheep at its two farms in Scotland, but had not confirmed how many of the Whakamaru flock, made up of about 3000 genetically modified sheep and 1000 normal sheep, will be killed.

"Unfortunately, placing the AAT programme on hold has also meant that PPL can no longer support all its AAT sheep flock, and work is under way to reduce sheep numbers on its farms in both Scotland and New Zealand," a PPL spokeswoman told a Scottish newspaper.

The jobs of 17 people employed at Whakamaru, including nine farm workers and eight administrators, are in question.

Hamilton-based AgResearch's commercial arm, Celentis, has expressed interest in taking over the Whakamaru operation. However, chief executive Stewart Washer said it was "early days" and it had to first get backing from both PPL and its partner Bayer.

PPL has to tell the Environment Risk Management Authority (Erma) before it slaughters any genetically modified sheep, and the slaughter must be carried out according to strict Erma rules.

The sheep with human genes would have to be incinerated while the normal sheep must be buried on site.

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