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New Wave of GE Trials Must Not Sideline Public

2 August 2005

New Wave of GE Trials Must Not Sideline Public

The approval on May 27th 2005 of AgResearch's Lactoferrin GE Cow embryo's into containment signals the beginning of a new wave of hearings from ERMA. But the public must not be cut out of the decision-making process or the $6 million spent on public hearings by the Royal Commission on GM will have been wasted.

ERMA's standing approval GMD 02028 only allows for scientific knowledge gained from the production, development and first generation of progeny. It does not allow for the generation of products like biopharmaceuticals. In the approval ERMA explicitly did not consider the 'down stream' benefits or costs , because they saw GMD 02028 was for scientific development not commercial production. The application was accepted by ERMA as a valid use of tax payers money because of the expertise that could be gained in the biotechnology area of New Zealand science.

The approval dates back to 2002 when AgResearch applied for a generic approval to develop and use GE techniques to further New Zealand scientific expertise. ERMA gave approval for AgResearch to develop in containment genetically modified cattle expressing functional therapeutic foreign proteins in their milk. The GE cattle would be modified with genes from cattle, sheep, goat, deer, human or mice. Agresearch scientists would then be able to study gene function and genetic performance. The development would span 3-4 years where inheritance and protein-expression would be studied.

However as it was not a field test and AgResearch expressly said they would not study the effects on the environment. Despite this, their last 'contained field test' spanned 100 acres.

There are two components to an experiment: an initial laboratory phase where the embryo's are created, thereby gaining the GE expertise and IP. Then the outdoor phase follows, where the grown animals are milked to see if the correct proteins are produced.

But there have been 8 animal milk trials over the years and all have failed, with no scientific explanation has been published on the reasons.

It is wrong to use a flawed previous approval for scientific research to permit a very different commercial project to proceed and thus avoid the wider issues that it is ERMA's duty to consider.

"We have to stop now and review this process," says Claire Bleakley of GE Free (NZ) in food and environment The manipulations cause animal suffering, deformities and ill health. The lack of soil and water testing compound the problem. And because of slack science there's a very real possibility of serious bio-security hazard occurring".

Without a proper review and analysis of the down-stream impacts, New Zealand's marketing position could also be severely harmed. Federated Farmers have made it clear that our GE-free status is vital to our export economy and have been alarmed by the failure of the Lifescience industry to live up to their promises to prevent GE contamination. Now there is a massive effort underway to protect markets that could be lost overnight.

The manipulation of the regulatory process to exploit a loophole in a previous approval is irresponsible and it is wrong for a CRI to create a GE product that may also avoid clinical trials.

"The process is ethically and morally bankrupt," says Claire Bleakely." Until proper scientific reports have identified and documented the reasons into the previous GE failures, and the ethical and long-term commercial implications are considered, it is irresponsible to carry on with such research. It is ERMA's role to recognise these fact and halt the process."


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