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AgResearch GE Cow Application Contravenes Law

21 August 2005

AgResearch GE Cow Application Contravenes Law: Minister Must Use "Call In" Powers

AgResearch's recently-approved experiment to produce Lactoferrin from GE cows has been revealed to be a full scale manufacturing business and not a just a 'development' as previously implied in order to get ERMA's go-ahead.

According to statements from AgResearch's European business partner-" Pharming"- the NZ Crown Research Institute will bear the full cost of producing recombinant human lactoferrin (rhLF) as well as being responsible for marketing across Asia.

The manufacturing plan clearly exceeds the 'development' title under which the approval has been made by ERMA and avoids public consultation. Worse is the intention to avoid proper testing and restrictions on use of the GE product by persuading the US Food and Drug Administration to approve it as "GRAS: Generally Recognised as Safe".

For these reasons the application must be called-in by the Minister under the HSNO Act. If this project is allowed to go ahead AgResearch will make New Zealand into a GE-nation, which will be the ultimate denial of the public will to maintain New Zealand's GE-Free status.

The attempt to sneak approval as "GRAS" is also a threat to public health and exposes AgResearch to liability that could run to billions of dollars as it did with a previous GE supplement made by Showa Denko.

The biotech company's thinly veiled rhetoric saying that GE Lactoferrin is a supplementation for neo nates sets a dangerous precedent for regulation of such products in this country and overseas. Lactoferrin is already a widely available iron supplement for neonates used to help with strengthening the nerves and immune system. The very effective bovine lactoferrin, extracted from colustrum and cows milk, has been safely and successfully used for many years and there is no problem with supply. In fact Fonterra have a lucrative successful export market which is now threatened by a GE variant with much greater potential risk.

"ERMA is being disingenuous and complicit in accepting AgResearch's rhetoric and by failing to look deeper into the scientific merit or consulting with the public" says Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ in food and Environment.

"The taxpayer is heading into another million dollar loss if AgResearch is to carry full responsibility for the cost of the production process which is an unnecessary use of GE and which 75% of New Zealanders do not want."

GE Free NZ demands that the Minister use her powers under HSNO to call in the AgResearch Lactoferrin embryo application.

In May AgResearch was given an approval to import genetically modified semen and embryo's inserted with the human gene Lactoferrin to create a production herd. GE Free is of the understanding that this does not constitute a development experiment under GMD 02028, as it does not fit into the generic approval that ERMA outlined in its decision. The original GMD 02028 approval was the subject of a previous legal challenge made by Madge and further legal action against this latest approval is being considered .

GE Free understands that the Lactoferrin deal is a business transaction between a private company (Pharming) and a taxpayer-funded organisation, but one which could potentially drive the CRI into ruin. In effect this project is thrusting New Zealand into an overt commercial full scale manufacturer of GE products.

"The failure by ERMA to consult with the public on this application is shocking" says Claire Bleakley. "GE Free NZ was assured of a meeting with all interested parties once the new ERMA CEO came to office, but this hasn't happened."

ERMA and the Minister both have a duty to stop or call in the application before it goes any further as it clearly contravenes the laws of this country. This sort of application should require a full-release authorisation under the HSNO Act legislative process.

Given initial safety studies have not been conducted, the precautionary principle demands that the effects on ecosystems, communities, the environment and economy should be ascertained before any approval is made.

"AgResearch is hoping that they will be able to advance the experiment by impregnating the cows. But without full notification and consulting with the taxpaying public on this application we believe that they will be breaking the law," says Claire Bleakley.

"Our members are sick of the public having to bear the full cost of GE failures and of being deliberately left in dark by the Minister and ERMA. There is growing concern at the conflict of interesting in regulation in New Zealand. ESR is partnered by Syngenta, AgResearch with Pharming, yet these converging commercial interests now threaten the Public and National Interest."

"We need a new scientific organisation that does not have links to big business so that independent safety analysis in New Zealand is genuinely independent and not compromised by links between vested interests."


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