08/09/2008

AgResearch Attack Misleading

 

AgResearch’s press statement attacking criticism of its application for GM animals is misleading and deliberately underplays serious issues.

In the AgResearch analysis “Fact and Fiction” issued to journalists, they make a significant if accidental error in claiming to know little about 300 GM sheep run in New Zealand by PPL; underplaying issues of liability and clean-up costs.

In fact there were 3000 GM sheep involved in these field trials. When PPL hit financial problems and product-trials failed the whole GM flock was destroyed. The situation exposed the public to potential costs for clean-up of contaminated soil. But in fact no research was done on the soil or to properly study the animals from this extensive experiment. The lack of scientific data is astonishing. At that time former Prime Minister Jim Bolger backed independent scientists in calling for tissue samples to be taken and studied. But there was no funding for this and nothing was done.

It is worrying that AgResearch claims to know little of this debacle because its own ventures with other biotech investors could have similar results.

No bond or proof of financial security is required from the investor-partners, and no commercial insurer will cover such risks. Liability for unexpected damage from AgResearch’s plans is socialised and falls on the New Zealand public who overwhelmingly reject their vision. The public opinion survey conducted for The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification found only 1% (one percent) of people named farm animals, or research using animals as the area they most approved of for GM)*.

Other points presented as ‘facts’ by AgResearch are also misleading.

They avoid mentioning that the applications cover commercial production, not just ‘research and development’ (Point 35, Fact or Fiction), and deliberately play down that their proposals are on a much greater scale than anything they have done before.

They say their products are not expected to enter the ‘conventional’ (sic) food chain, (Point 1 Fact or Fiction) but there are already non-GM nutriceuticals in supermarkets. Benefits claimed by AgResearch for the applications indicate they are targetting a broader market than the “unconventional" food chain, (whatever that may be) in the medium-term. This is significant given they are seeking approvals for an 'indefinite period'.

Contrary to AgResearch’s hype (Point 3 Fact or Fiction), many resource-poor farmers overseas have not been helped by GM. Thousands of poor Indian farmers have committed suicide, often by drinking RoundUp herbicide because of debts arising from crop failures, and costly chemical inputs. Policy analyst Davindra Sharma*, in an open letter to the Prime Minister of India writes “We all know for sure now that Bt cotton (the first GM crop to be commercialised in the country) was one of the significant factors in pushing more and more farmers to commit suicide in Vidharba, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. And yet, no lessons have been learnt”. Commercial GM crops have been shown not to yield more, and companies driven by IP above ethics are now even patenting genes for drought resistance and characteristics for which they may be able to charge license fees.

It also clear that AgResearch will put New Zealand at the ‘bleeding edge’ of a speculative pharming bubble rather than at the cutting edge of ethical biotechnology that respects New Zealand’s brand –reputation and community values. Their emphasis on just one product: Atryn- reveals that that this is the only product of transgenic animals that has been approved, and also that alternative production methods are available that are far less cruel to animals.

AgResearch also fail to address the fact that the Royal Commission on GM specifically recommended against using as ‘bioreactors’ animals like sheep and cattle that we use in food. Analysis of the submissions to the Commission, and the issues it deliberated on shows there is a lot more behind their recommendation than simplistic concerns about mix-ups leading to animals entering the food supply.

Since the Royal Commission reported, the New Zealand Bioethics Council has been established and projects such as those planned by AgReseaerch have been further considered. The BioEthics Council has called for an ethical review of using animals with human genes as disease-models, saying*: “ (The) use of human genes in an animal to create an organism that can act as a ‘model’ for a human disease has the potential to develop an organism that will carry a significant burden of suffering, independently of and additional to any subsequent research. The Council holds the view that such interventions, where they will lead to organisms developing past the first half of gestation or development, and/or being born, should be subject to ethical review.”

The applications from AgResearch provide no evidence that such a review has been considered or has taken place. It is not good enough for AgResearch to attack those raising these issues as a way to justify extreme science compromised by lust for profit and ‘cost efficiencies’.

Ends

Jon Carapiet – Spokesperson GE Free NZ in food and environment

0210507681

References

“Fact or Fiction” PR sheet from AgResearch


*Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, appendix 3, p 184 Table 6.1


*http://www.thesouthasian.org/archives/2006/gm_crops_farmer_suicides_and_n.html


* New Zealand Bioethics Council, August 2004 Report: The Cultural, Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of the Use of Human Genes in Other Organisms, p 32

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