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ERMA rules out role for Bio Ethics Council

Press Release-5 August 2002

Boycott warning as ERMA rules out role for Bio Ethics Council in approving Agresearch's plans for cows with human genes

ERMA-(The Environmental Risk Management Authority) says it must process an application from AgResearch for development of cows with a cocktail of human and other species' genes and has ruled out any role for the Bio Ethics Council in the decision.

GE-Free NZ (in food and environment) says the decision to proceed with the application reveals the hypocrisy behind claims that values shared by many New Zealanders are to be given consideration as the country 'moves forward cautiously' with gene technology.

"It smacks of hypocrisy. The process is side-stepping the ethical issues raised by the Royal Commission and which the Bio-Ethics Council was established to oversee," says Jon Carapiet- a spokesperson for GE-Free NZ (in food and environment).

Under current HSNO legislation the only way to ensure the ethical issues are taken seriously is for AgResearch to withdraw the application or for ERMA to reject the application, and allow the Bio Ethics Council time to fulfil its mandate.

"We are asking for AgResearch - which is a publicly-funded company- to withdraw the application and respect the need for wider public debate. The Bio Ethics Council must be allowed to participate," Mr Carapiet says.

The current process proves the lie to government claims that they are managing the development of gene technology in line with the Royal Commission's recommendations. MPs from United Future are also being urged to publicly voice their concerns or open themselves up to accusations of being hypocrites given their party's focus on community values and ethics.

Hearings for the AgResearch project start next week in Hamilton, but there are signs that some groups and individuals may be boycotting the hearings. Requests for hearings in other centres have been rejected by ERMA. Only a handful of hundreds of submitters have agreed to appear at the hearings.

The Royal Commission advised a new Bio Ethics Council be implemented to act in an advisory capacity on ethical, social and cultural matters. They also advocated that farm animals should not be bio-pharmed if there was any alternative. AgResearch are applying for years of experiments with mammary gland production of proteins, gene "knock-outs" (to observe effects on the animals), cloning, and copying genes from humans, sheep, deer and mice into cattle. There are no proven medical benefits being claimed.

"New Zealand already has sheep and cows with human genes that were created prior to the Royal Commission," says Mr.Carapiet. "Before proceeding with more experiments the public have a right to know that the ethical issues have been fully investigated in the way the Royal Commission advised. Any other process will make a farce of the notion of a Bio Ethics Council, and makes a mockery of claims that legitimate public debate has a valued role in the process."

Ends

Contact Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370


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