GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 4th  February 2004

Warning on NZ GE animals as avian flu jumps to humans

The first indications that avian flu in Asian countries may have transferred via human-to-human contact is a wake-up call to regulators that transgenic experiments could open similar avenues for disease in New Zealand.

GE Free New Zealand in food and environment is calling for a moratorium on the insertion of human genes in any animal in genetic engineering experiments, until the increasing scientific and ethical concerns are resolved.

The first possible crossings of avian flu from human to human signal that the use of human genes in animals could bring serious risks to the public and that these risks could far outweigh any unproven benefit to science.

The government's first responsibility is to the population it serves, any kowtowing to corporate commercial interests now commonly behind all GE research is neither responsible nor appropriate.

A survey by the recently set-up government advisory body- the Bio-Ethics Committee -shows that the great majority of people are concerned about the use of human genes in cattle and sheep already occurring in NZ.

Despite the concerns that new diseases could emerge as a result, containment has been limited to open fields with little or no monitoring done to test the unexpected effects of the experiments on soil or the animals. Calls for scientific samples to be taken from thousands of transgenic sheep currently being destroyed have fallen on deaf ears, despite the flock being a vital resource to scientists.

The use of human genes in animals in New Zealand began in the mid 1990s with PPL Therapeutics experiments with sheep. The UK based company fearing a backlash after mad cow disease, came to New Zealand where "the  regulations were lax and the land cheap" (Sunday Times 9.1.2000)

The research into a possible cure for cystic fibrosis abruptly ceased when the product failed preliminary clinical trials and PPL in financial trouble were taken over. Most of the 3000 sheep produced with human genes are now set for slaughter, but it is uncertain as to who is footing the bill for the slaughter and disposal. 

Media contact: Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

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