Agresearch says gene testing was in proportion to risk

  • 06/05/2011

State science company Agresearch says that it has "fully complied" with regulatory controls on its genetic engineering (GE) of livestock at Ruakura, near Hamilton.

Environmental lobbyists critical of some genetic engineering have called for an urgent re-assessment of GE animal experiments approved at Agresearch by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) last year.

One of the groups, GE Free New Zealand, has also called on Erma to stop the big state science company field-spraying animal waste from experimental GE cows, sheep and goats, and to create effective tests for environmental effects from the livestock.

GE Free president Claire Bleakley said the call for re-assessment was triggered by evidence that AgResearch and Erma had failed to ensure proper testing and monitoring of environmental effects from GE field experiments at Agresearch's Ruakura campus, near Hamilton.

An independent report on AgResearch's legal obligation to test soil for "horizontal gene transfer" (HGT) had found its study was "totally inadequate" for the task, she said.

HGT is the transfer of genetic material from an organism to another which is not its offspring, and has been raised by GE critics as a potential risk of the technology because altered genes could be passed on to other species.

But Agresearch's general manager of applied biosciences, Dr Jimmy Suttie told NZPA today that AgResearch had fully complied with its Erma controls on trials of GE animals.

"The sampling regime was reasonable with regard to the level of risk associated with horizontal gene transfer in the containment facility."

The review by Professor Jack Heinemann of Canterbury University, published in The Journal of Organic Systems, said that AgResearch told Erma that "no problems of HGT were found" in monitoring of experiments between 2004 and 2009.

Erma "blindly accepted" the assurance, and was "remiss" in failing to ask for the full data, said Prof Heinemann, who heads the university's centre for integrated research in biosafety.

The centre reviewed Agresearch reports on the monitoring which GE Free obtained under official information rules, and found the experiments were not designed to be capable of detection gene transfers from livestock to soil bacteria.

In addition, most of the soil sampling done by Agresearch around where carcasses of the engineered animals had been buried was too shallow: 6m to 8m above the bodies.

"Importantly, no study confirmed that the samples were taken from soil in contact with carcasses," Prof Heinemann said in the report. These experiments were "irretrievably flawed" for providing baseline data for future soil analysis, effectively monitoring HGT, or influencing future assessment of HGT risk.

Ms Bleakley said the problems were compounded by Erma then cancelling any further research into the environmental impact of GE animals when approving a new AgResearch experiment to run GE cows, sheep and goats for the next 20 years.

"A formal enquiry into the scientific and regulatory failure is also needed, and those involved need to be held accountable," she said.

"Erma had the wool pulled over their eyes, and failed to even consider the full report for almost a year and a half.

"There needs to be an immediate re-assessment that would implement stringent regulations around ecosystem effects."


source: newshub archive