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Are Australian GE Regulators Threatening New Zealand’s Food Chain?

Friends of the Earth Australia have uncovered disturbing evidence that the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) in Australia is allowing a number of gene editing (GE) techniques to be used in animals with no regulation at all.

Friends of the Earth say

“A Victoria based company - Total Livestock Genetics - has bred dairy cows from ‘gene edited’ bulls whose genomes have since been found to unintentionally contain bacterial DNA. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have argued this example illustrates the risks posed by these techniques and why they need to be regulated.” (FOE press release, [1])

In 2016, Recombinetics submitted an application to deregulate GE bull semen for breeding cattle without horns (polled) to the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA). On assessment, the FDA detected that the CRISPA* gene edited (SDN2) process had incorporated bacterial genes into calves DNA conferring resistance to three different antibiotics – ampicillin, neomycin and kanamycin. This was not intended and also not detected by Recombinetics. [2]

“The implications of the transfer of GE antibiotic resistance bacteria into the environment, soil and people are potentially health threatening. This is especially concerning as there are a growing number of illnesses that have become life threatening due to anti biotic resistance,” said Claire Bleakley, president GE Free NZ.

The Recombinetics polled cattle trials bore two calves. Of the 26 GE embryos implanted, twenty-one calves were aborted early and three were euthanised at birth because they were 'unviable'. [4], [4a] AgResearch Ruakura GM animal field trials reported the same poor outcome, where the GM animals suffer from high rates of miscarriage, birth defects and premature death. [3]

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“This dangerous engineering technology is not uncommon and shows how imprecise GE techniques are,” said Mrs. Bleakley.

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Authority has recommended in its briefing paper that there should be exemptions on certain gene edited GMOs. The meat and milk from these cattle would fall under these exemption rules, on the understanding they are harmless. [5] These GE exemptions highlight that there is a danger that these foods will escape regulation and come onto the market illegally before the consultation is completed.

“We call on the Food Standards Ministerial Forum to ensure that all foods produced from gene technology, including new breeding techniques, are fully regulated. ” said Bleakley, “We further call on MPI to ensure that no GE milk or meat from these animals has been imported and there is no GE semen being sold to farmers in New Zealand. We are undergoing a serious drought as well as a viral health crisis, to add a GE food danger will cause further suffering, something our economy and health system cannot cope with.”

*clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats = CRISPA

References: 
[1] http://emergingtech.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/GM-cattle-briefing-paper-10_3_20.pdf
[1a] https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/new-document/12050786

[2] Norris, A.L. et al. (2019) Template plasmid integration in germline genome-edited cattle, https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/715482v1

[2] Solomon, S.M. (2020) Genome editing in animals: why FDA regulation matters, Nature Biotechnology
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41587-020-0413-7

[3] GM Animals in New Zealand: the first 15 years https://www.gefree.org.nz/assets/pdf/GE-Animals-in-New-Zealand.pdf

[4] Carlson, D.F. et al. (2016) Production of hornless dairy cattle from genome-edited cell lines, Nature Biotechnology, 34:479–481 https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.3560

[4a] https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.3560/tables/1

[5] FSANZ (2020) Proposal P1055 – Definitions for gene technology and new breeding techniques, https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/proposals/Pages/Proposal-P1055-%e2%80%93-Definitions-for-gene-technology-and-new-breeding-techniques.aspx
 

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