The ERMA hearing into the first general environmental release of a recombinant (GE) Equine influenza (EI) vaccine engineered with a Canary Pox virus vector is being held today.
But could Kiwi, Kea, Kereru be made extinct if canary Pox virus mutates? ERMA has been advised by MAF that no research on the threat to native species has been done.
The New Zealand Racing Board has applied to introduce two genetically engineered vaccines, Proteqflu and Proteqflu Te, for Equine Influenza (EI). This vaccine is engineered with a vector from the canary pox virus, similar to molluscum contagiosum and chicken pox. The Proteqflu Te contains two recombinant canary pox EI strains with a tetanus toxoid added. This approval will extend further than for use in an emergency and is for an indefinite period. New Zealand is only one of two countries in the world where there has not been an Equine influenza outbreak.
"This application is full of fish hooks and hidden caveats that could in the next two years see the GE vaccines used fairly frequently," says Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ in Food and environment."But at what cost to New Zealand's trading reputation, environment and native fauna?"
"One of the most concerning recommendations is that if this application is approved all similar types of vaccine aimed at future variants of the disease are also considered automatically approved. This opens the way for a deluge of untested GE vaccines to be used without proper public notification and independent scientific scrutiny."
New Zealand's international reputation and environment are also at risk. Our main indigenous fauna are birds and reptiles, yet there have been no studies on the possibility of a spill or virus mutation escaping into our environment and waterways.
"If a wild water bird is affected by vaccine shed in the water, the devastating effects could not be contained and we would have a massive biosecurity problem on our hands. This would put at risk our farmed birds as well as our already endangered native birds. With the threats from 1080 and now canary pox what hope do they have?"
"Our biosecurity and quarantine protections have until now been first grade and we are a disease free country," says Claire Bleakley. "It is greedy and stupid to introduce a live GE vaccine when we already have four less risky and effective vaccines to treat EI."
"These have fewer adverse effects and are already available for use in an emergency, to treat a disease that we don't have, and have successfully avoided by sound biosecurity measures."
Hygiene and proper feeding has been shown to protect horses from spreading the disease which last for 1-3 days with sneezing and runny nose. In certain conditions especially with enclosed animals, it spreads very fast and ends in pneumonia.
"Soap and hot water is an effective killer of the virus!" Ms Bleakley says. "Our clean, green, open environment helps us maintain healthy stables. We must preserve this benefit for New Zealand and ERMA must decline such a potentially dangerous threat to our economic and environmental future."
Claire Bleakley 027 348 6731
References: GMR 07001 www.ermanz.govt.nz