26/05/2008

New GE Animals a Threat to New Zealand's Export Reputation

 


Plans to develop new GE animals with genetic material taken from widely different species (understood to be as varied as goats, mice, and zebra), are a threat to New Zealand's clean, green natural image for food production.

AgResearch's proposal to develop experimental GE animals is expected to be publicly announced within days. It is a step in the wrong direction and will undermine New Zealand's image built on exports of grass-fed dairy cows and sheep, strong reputation for food safety and our natural environment.

The risks to farmers from damage to our export reputation is significant, as is the public concern that if the project is approved, liability for accidents will fall on the public purse rather than AgResearch or the investors involved.

New Zealand's brand image uniquely positions us to benefit from global market trends towards sustainability, ethical food production, and authenticity in natural foods that customers can trust.

New Zealand's biotechnology strategy for investment in agriculture needs to reflect these trends, not ignore them.This reputation is the backbone of our exports that farmers and food manufacturers rely on and can best be served by ethical uses of gene science such as marker-assisted breeding that does not require creation of herds of GE animals.

But instead, AgResearch will use public funds and monies gained from overseas investors to support projects that run counter to these trends.

The threat is more than just to New Zealand's export reputation. Transgenic experiments present real risks of creating unexpected effects that may include the creation of new diseases in animals as well as new harmful traits in products made from them.

There are currently no agreed scientific methods to reliably test the effects of the genetic engineering process in a way that will ensure food safety.

"The complexities at the genetic level are enormous, with the potential to create new diseases that will be as surprising to scientists as the discovery of Mad Cow Disease was; now believed to be caused by prions," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ (in food and environment).

"The use of GE to experiment with sheep and cows to create new proteins and alter natural biochemical pathways is of particular concern, especially as the Royal Commission on GM recommended food animals not be used as 'biorectors' in this way."

The process of genetic engineering animals can also be extremely cruel and raises animal welfare concerns that will cast a shadow over New Zealand's reputation.

"The film industry's image of mutant GE sheep is something we just don't need in New Zealand," says Mr Carapiet."But previous GE experiments have seen deformaties resulting in aborted foetuses, and ill health in animals that has largely remained hidden from public scrutiny".

One of the most concerning previous trials in New Zealand resulted in the termination of over 3000 GE sheep. New Zealand was specifically chosen as a site for the trials because the animals here are free from scrapie, though fears were raised at the time the experiments could have given rise to new diseases of even greater concern. Although this was one of the largest trials of GE animals ever conducted, the whole flock was destroyed without scientific samples being taken.

In this disasterous situation there was no funding for proper scientific research, or clean-up of the site, and the overseas investors filed for bankruptcy, leaving the New Zealand public and farming community to carry the risks.

More details of AgResearch's plans are awaited but are likely to prompt widespread community opposition given the threat to New Zealand's Brand image, shared community values, and the 'socialisation' of risk onto the public under the current HSNO Act.

ENDS

Contact , Jon Carapiet 0210 507 681

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