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Fonterra's Future at Risk from GE Milk

Fonterra's Future at Risk from GE Milk

A report on the future of "biopharming" in New Zealand is a warning that Fonterra's future as a dairy-food exporter is in jeopardy because of AgResearch's plans to manufacture pharmaceuticals and 'medical foods'.

AgResearch is seeking approval* for commercial production for an unlimited duration, at multiple unspecified sites across Zealand, using animals as 'bioreactors'. The plans include cattle, sheep, buffalo, goat, pigs, deer, llama, alpaca, horses, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, possums, and chickens; incorporating bacterial, viral, synthetic, monkey and human genes. (Maori genes are excluded.)

But Fonterra should oppose the applications as they are a threat to the cooperative's standing as a food exporter, with potential losses of hundreds of millions of dollars, and the creation of irreversible stigma against New Zealand.

The report (1) "Preliminary Economic Evaluation of Biopharming in New Zealand" by Lincoln University's Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit (AERU) says "introducing a GMO into the New Zealand dairy sector has a potential to cause a minimum of NZ$539.6 million in losses to the dairy and tourism industries. Thus, such a biopharming endeavour would need to offset those losses before it could be viewed as a net positive for the New Zealand economy". The report warns that because of the importance to New Zealand's economy of "export-focused industries "the reactions of overseas consumers are important."

"AgResearch's plans represent a transformation of the agricultural sector of New Zealand that Fonterra should not embrace," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ (in food and environment). "It will impact far more than farmers or pharmaceutical companies,including millions of consumers who buy Fonterra's products. Yet in the applications by AgResearch the consumer has been cut out of the equation."

The report signals that Fonterra and Brand New Zealand as a whole could be irreversibly stigmatized. "Commercial release of a food GMO, such as functional food, that will affect any of New Zealand's major products or markets (especially Europe) has a high probability of causing an adverse effect and can potentially affect large parts of the country's exports..In addition, there is a body of research on risk perception (that) affect consumers and researchers alike. One important concept from this literature is 'stigma'. It is possible for products to be stigmatised; producers and even countries can be similarly affected" .p45( emphasis added)

The report considers as examples two potential products: recombinant human lactoferrin (rhLF) produced in cow's milk and low-GI potatoes. The report shows AgResearch's proposals for indefinite and broad-ranging genetic engineering of animals is at best premature if not disastrous, and cannot be allowed.

"(It) is clearly early days for these products. The future impact of consumer concerns is unknown and contested. The regulatory regime and practices needed to segregate novel products from other food have not been set up and are untested."

The report also says paints an alarming picture of the lack of basic information that demands a Ministerial call-in of AgResearch's applications. "The main reason to cover so much ground is that definitive information on the economics of biopharming is scant..The main result from this examination is that the necessary information to develop a robust economic analysis of these products is lacking."( p52)

The report points out: "The main idea that falls out of this discussion is that biopharming is still in a research stage; it is not a developed industry with commercial products and commercial revenue." And: "The RCGM did not fully explore the economics of GMOs, and in particular did not receive independent advice regarding the economics."

"The government should intervene and "call in" the applications. This is a decision that goes to the heart of New Zealand's values and international positioning. It will change the very nature of this country, not just in the short-term but forever," says Jon Carapiet.


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