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ERMA Failing Public by Forging Ahead with GE Cows

ERMA Failing Public by Forging Ahead with GE Cows

ERMA's latest GE approval fails the New Zealand public by going against a key recommendation of the Royal Commission on GM that we do not allow food-animals like cows to be used as bioreactors as AgResearch are being allowed to do.

The decision by ERMA to approve three amendments to AgResearch's previous application opens the door for more GE cows and yet again shows that ERMA lacks impartiality. It is also unacceptable that ERMA has deliberately refused to involve the public even though many people and organisations asked to be involved in the process.

The first minor amendment is for an extension for another three years to allow the research objectives to be achieved. The second amendment is to allow the use of a single selection marker gene (conferring resistance to the antibiotic puromycin) which is frequently used in such research. Though Puromycin is not an antibiotic used in human or animal medicine it has been found in high concentrations in the soil at the AgResearch containment facility raising concerns about horizontal gene transfer and the possibility of creating new pathogens.

However the third amendment to approval GMD02028 is not minor but potentially opens the gate for New Zealand to be used by overseas speculators for experiments that New Zealanders widely oppose. The amendment specifically allows AgResearch to use imported genetically modified cattle and semen previously developed by other biotech organisations. This is a material change to the original decision and should have been notified for a full public hearing.

In this case the source of GE material is Dutch company Pharming (NV) who are understood to have already contracted with AgResearch to market their GE lactoferrin across Asia. This deal is itself suspicious given the fact that until now AgResearch had no approval to import the semen and embryos let alone farm more GE cows.

By making these amendments ERMA has blatantly disregarded the concerns of meat exporters, farmers and the public of New Zealand.

"The rules to protect the public and farmers are very clearly defined in the HSNO Act. Yet the sloppy science underpinning genetic modification continues to be sanctioned," says Claire Bleakley from GE Free NZ in food and environment. "Where are the scientific findings on the previous experiments and where are the final reports on safety to the environment that would justify ERMA's decision? It's simply business as usual as if the Royal Commission on GM had never taken place".

The use of GE cow embryo's incorporating a human gene, antibiotic markers and viral genes to produce a product already marketed by New Zealand farmers, goes against the ethical values that the Royal Commission on GM identified (in its consultation on use of human genes in other organisms) as shared across the community.

Moreover, there is readily available evidence of the failure in clinical trials of milk from GE animal developed for therapeutic use due to adverse effects and worsening of patients' symptoms. The commercial deal that AgResearch has signed with Pharming is only putting New Zealand agricultural and taxpayers at risk. It is particularly ironic that Pharming are using Intellectual Property bought from PPL which also previously ran experimental GE animals in New Zealand before going bankrupt and leaving the public to fund any clean-up of their site.

"AgResearch is not finding out how and what environmental problems occur when animals are genetically modified. It has rented itself out to the highest bidder using ERMA as its pimp and the taxpayer as its funder".

ERMA is proving itself incapable of adopting the precautionary principle in light of International research about the known negative impacts of GE. The research includes finding that viral gene fragments can survive to function in cells in the digestive system, and that contamination of soil from GE crops may be been detected for fifteen years after a GE crop is grown.

ERMA has yet again shown that it uses its discretion under the HSNO Act to avoid acting on the precautionary principle, pakeha and Maori views. The latest decision will be scrutinised to see if legal action is possible, as it is clearly warranted.

ENDS

References:


Marit R. Myhre, Kristin A. Fenton, Julia Eggert, Kaare M. Nielsen and Terje Traavik (2005) The 35S CaMV plant virus promoter is active in human enterocyte-like cells, European Food Reseach and Technology. REF: Doc.TWN/Biosafety/2005/C, DOI 10.1007/s00217-005-0154-3.

GM crop scrapped as mice made ill, Selina Mitchell and Leigh Dayton, The Australian, November 18, 2005
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17283002%255E2702,00.html

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