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NZ Scientists Warned About Danger Of GE Viruses And Microbes

New Zealand scientists interviewed on Newshub [1] calling for loosening regulatory controls on Genetic Engineering must heed warnings from overseas, and international standards of regulation need to be strengthened against the risks of genetically engineered (GE) viruses and microbes.

A new report by the Institute for Responsible Technology [2] is an alert for government regulators and scientists that GE technologies like CRISPR* of viruses and microbes urgently requires stronger controls in the US and globally.

This contradicts the views of The Malaghan Institute scientists calling for changes to New Zealand’s Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act that would exempt regulation of GE techniques like CRISPR for medical trials.

"The need for regulation is increasing with the ease and power of emerging gene technologies. In an emergency like Covid-19 the rules have helped provide safety of vaccines approved for emergency use and trials are continuing. This must not be used to justify deregulation of Gene Editing in food and the wider environment”. said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ in Food and Environment

"Regulation is vital for public confidence. The IRT report reveals the need for regulation of GE viruses and microbes in non-medical as well as medical uses."

In New Zealand The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluates all applications for live GE products using the stipulations set out by the HSNO Act. The HSNO Act is an environmental law that is in place to protect the environment from the introduction of unknown risks of pesticides and new organisms.

"This requires applicants to show safety of their products by conducting contained trials, indoors or outdoors, in the New Zealand environment," said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ in food and environment.

“If the HSNO Act is changed and GE organisms are exempted, the level of pesticide use will increase in both the environment and food crops”.

GE regulatory exemptions are dangerous as they remove the need for proof of safety. Already, in the six years CRISPR technology has existed, research has shown that mutations, unintended effects, and off target effects are common.

New Zealand has had a range of GM field trials on a variety of onion species, brassica, and canola in the last 22 years, all engineered to tolerate either herbicides or produce insecticides. All these have failed due to poor performance, disease susceptibility, and negligence. However, persistence of the GE canola weeds meant that the field trials had to be monitored for 10 years. [3]

AgResearch has trialled GM ryegrass in the US at a cost of $25 million over the last 5 years, but has been left behind. In the meantime, conventionally bred high performance rye grass is being sold in New Zealand with excellent performance outcomes. NZ is leading the research in animal methane reduction in cattle feed trials [4] and cross-bred sheep that produce less methane emissions. [5]

Animal welfare issues also require that outcomes of Gene Editing be regulated. GM Animals have suffered horrifying problems, including sterility and deformities, while viable production of pharmaceutical proteins in the milk has failed. [6]

The International trial in which NZ participated; on the GE drug Pexa Vec, was withdrawn early due to a high level of risks to patient health. [7]

“Clinical trials are important to understand the risks that GE poses,” said Claire Bleakley “It appears that frustration at slow commercialisation and failure of GE organisms to perform in trials is clouding the judgment of GE proponents.”

The Government must ensure that regulation and public consultation on issues that affect the New Zealand public’s wellbeing are enshrined in law.

[5] Sheep lead Methane Research Farmers Weekly 29 April 2021
[6] GE Animals in New Zealand: The first 15 years

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