GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 2nd September 2005

Gene Transfer Found in Soil at GE Cattle Site

AgResearch soil tests have found that 'horizontal gene transfer' has occurred with soil micro-organisms in land where transgeneic cattle have been grazing. 

The discovery - of 'HGT'- once claimed by some scientists to be virtually impossible, raises serious issues for ERMA and MAF given the significance of the genetic transfer is hard to quantify but could put at risk the integrity of soil on which primary production in New Zealand is reliant.

AgResearch has grazed a herd of  Transgenic cattle on 100 acres of land in Hamilton for the last 6 years.  These animals are part of the “Human Cow” court case, where it was successfully argued that ERMA did not properly assess the risks associated with the experiment.  After the case ERMA placed a requirement for monitoring of the offal pits and land for possible HGT. 

The latest findings have shown that bacterial populations analysed from local soil samples tested positive for the anti-biotic resistant genes puromycin and kanamycin.

The offal pit was also tested and found to have different bacterial communities from the surrounding soil, with the offal pit soil having a higher proportion of resistant bacteria.  However the discovery of a high population in the natural soils away from the pits indicates that the transgenes are being spread around the property.

The findings raise serious concerns about the ability for these bacteria to mutate with the potential to create virulent disease which is antibiotic resistant.

ERMA and MAF have consistently rejected warnings from independent scientists and have argued that their scientific experts say transgenes could not survive in the soil under natural conditions.  However these new finding mean that they should revisit their assumptions and immediately increase quarantine at all Transgenic sites. 

GE Free NZ in food and environment believe MAF and ERMA should not allow any new  transgenic animals, or the relocation of conventional animals onto the site, until the full impact of the HGT and anti-biotic resistance is properly researched and understood.

Further, the findings prove that ERMA have been negligent in refusing to require testing of the soil at the PPL Whakamaru site where the failed PPL transgenic sheep grazed over 500 acres for 9 years. ERMA have been repeatedly warned to monitor for the spread of transgenes and possible mutations at the site.  

“The PPL case involved ERMA relying on the assurances of a commercial company which then went into receivership rather than requiring a bond to finance scientific research as requested by community and environmental groups", says Claire Bleakley from GE Free NZ in food and environment..

“We now have the potential for an organism to recombine or mutate into a potentially virulent disease but with no monitoring or testing done on the site to mitigate against the risk,” she says.

ERMA is failing in its public duty as it has sat on this information for 8 months and done nothing to address this potentially disastrous situation.

“It is nothing short of gross negligence that ERMA have not looked at the AgResearch information and recognised the implications for the PPL site where grazing GE animals have run without any scientific investigation into the impact on the soil,” says Claire Bleakley.

GE Free NZ in food and environment are calling for the establishment of an independent Biotechnology Commission - something also proposed by the Royal Commission on GM, but rejected by the government. The Commission must work independently of industry- stooges now revealed to have been inept at reading reports and who have failed to act on findings that have massive implications for our economy and the environment.


Claire Bleakley (06) 3089842

Jon Carapiet 0210 507 681



Annual Report to ERMA 2004 p25



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