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Lobbyists See Details On Agresearch Bid To Develop GE Livestock

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Lobbyists See Details On Agresearch Bid To Develop GE Livestock

Wellington, March 9 NZPA - The Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) should not have allowed a wide-ranging application to genetically engineer livestock to be accepted without disclosing important details, a lobby group says.

In the High Court at Wellington today GE-Free New Zealand asked Justice Denis Clifford for a judicial review of Erma's decision to accept applications from AgResearch to import genetically-engineered (GE) material and develop GE livestock in containment, and to stage outdoor field tests.

AgResearch last year made four applications for the laboratory testing of human and monkey cell lines and smaller species of genetically engineered laboratory animals and the development of GE cows, buffalo, sheep, pigs, goats, llamas, alpacas, deer and horses.

It wanted the livestock to produce antigens, biopharmaceuticals, enzymes, hormones and other products with possible health benefits and commercial applications.

But AgResearch said it was making a "suite" of applications to obtain all the possible approvals it might need for research, and animal breeding to target production of high-value proteins in milk.

GE-Free said Erma had wrongly allowed the applications to go ahead, because too little information had been provided on the new organisms to be created or where they would be developed and tested.

Counsel for GE-Free Tom Bennion told the court potential submitters on the applications needed adequate information to make meaningful submissions that could help Erma in its decision making.

The present arrangements meant that even if new scientific data became available, people making submissions might sight it only 10 days before a public hearing -- too late to arrange independent analysis.

Mr Bennion said all the applications failed to identify which specific GE organisms were involved, the development and field-test applications failed to specify any locations, and the field-test applications failed to identify what was to be tested.

"They should have been returned to the applicant for further information before they were notified to the public," he said.

"The allegation is that they are simply lacking basic material so as to prevent anyone, expert or lay, understanding their scope and providing specific information or comment to assist in managing the risks arising."

GE-Free wanted the applications withdrawn from the process and referred back to Erma for AgResearch to fulfil the statutory requirements.

Counsel for Erma, Kim Murray, told the court that though an initial decision was made on July 9 last year by the regulator not to seek more information from AgResearch on the proposed applications, it decided on July 18 to make such a request.

Details of locations, purpose of field trials, and claimed benefits were all questioned.

But on July 29, AgResearch was unable to provide much of that information, and Erma's manager of new organisms applications, Asela Atapattu, said in an affidavit he considered the science company did not have the information, rather than being unwilling to provide it.

Options available were to decline to accept the applications without the information, or to consider only those parts of applications where sufficient information was available, or to advance the process by notifying the application so that Erma's own staff could consider the issues.

Mr Murray said matters involving science should be decided by a scientific authority, rather than courts.

There was no statutory requirement for disclosure of the location of a research site, or the expected duration of research, and sufficient information had been given for Erma to start a scientific evaluation of the applications.

The case is continuing.

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