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Amendment Approval received for New GE Cows

Amendment Approval received for New GE Cows

Plans by AgResearch to create new GE cows to produce commercial lactoferrin in partnership with Dutch company Pharming (NV) have been received and are being considered by the ERMA Authority over the next two days (Nov 1st and 2nd). GE Free has voiced its concerns over this application believing that ERMA process does not allow public comment on the amendment. GE Free believe that this amendment must be opened up for full public and agricultural sector participation

The two amendments, if approved, would create a precedent that allows the development and commercial creation of animals from imported GE embryo's, contravening all the carefully written laws on GE safety and environmental testing, further endangering our biosecurity status and overriding any public input.

"The Hazardous substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) was written to protect our environment and communities by ensuring that all GE trials were fully researched for safety and health impacts" said Claire Bleakley of GE Free (NZ) in food and environment "Biotech partnerships cannot override these laws by secretly applying to change the decisions around the safety testing rules of their experiments".

AgResearch reported in 2004 that the soils in the containment facility contained a high proportion of the antibiotic puromycin resistance genes and noted changes in the bacterial populations in the offal pits. The gene, which confers resistance to the antibiotic puromycin, is used to mark which engineered cells contain the new DNA used in the creation of the GE animals.

"Problems will occur if antibiotic resistance is built up between the puromycin resistance genes and commonly used veterinary medicines" said Ms Bleakley.

Further research is due to be reported in the next few months but AgResearch claim there is no evidence of Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) into soil microbes anywhere in the world. However no valid information can be actually reported as the diagnostic tests are still being developed.

Studies over the last 10 years have shown that HGT occurs frequently and ACRE the body that advises the UK Government clearly recognized this risk. "ACRE was also not surprised by the result that transgenic DNA persisted in the soil for up to 2 years. The soil is a repository of anything that falls into it and there will be patches where whatever falls there will be protected and other areas where such material will be degraded. If soil is looked at closely enough with enough samples and with very sensitive techniques, most things will be found including DNA". (ACRE, 2000) "ERMA must move to protect New Zealand agriculture and consumers from the unknown biosecurity risks that could arise from events such as horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of the GE DNA elements to the soil bacteria. ERMA must guarantee that no further GE takes place in the 100 acre containment facility until the proper diagnostic tests have been developed and carried out on the soil ecosystems".

GE Free NZ (in food and environment) believes that ERMA has been negligent to have waited 8 months before requiring AgResearch to test for horizontal gene transfer and animal health issues. The data deserves independent peer reviewed scientific analysis and publication before further development of GE animals occurs in New Zealand.

The dispute is also another signal that an Independent Biotechnology Commissioner is needed to avoid commercial bias and vested interests inappropriately influencing scientific research in New Zealand. ENDS

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