ERMA swallowed genetic bull from AgResearch

ERMA has swallowed a lot of genetic bull from AgResearch. GE Trials Must Stop Immediately!

A Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) report published yesterday shows that AgResearch may have intentionally misled the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) and allowed risky genetic contamination in the Waikato Region, according to the Soil & Health Association of NZ. (1)

Because of the biosafety risk of significant adverse effects to people or the environment, AgResearch was required by ERMA to monitor soil microorganisms for the uptake of transgenes by horizontal gene transfer (HGT) at the offal pits where genetically engineered (GE) cattle were disposed. (2)

“If AgResearch detected HGT, an immediate stop to genetic engineering and the disposal of cattle was required, but AgResearch has sampled in such a way as to avoid any real likelihood of that happening,” said Soil & Health – Organic NZ spokesperson Steffan Browning.(3)

The INBI report (page 4) states, “The Authority allowed AgResearch to design, conduct and supervise the monitoring of HGT, and this latitude created a potential conflict of interest for AgResearch when set against its funding criteria and overall goal of delivering commercially applicable research results from the development of GM bovine.”

“By using research in such a way to avoid finding the result that they were required to, AgResearch have cheated ERMA and New Zealand, and their genetically engineered (GE) animal trials should be halted immediately,” said Mr Browning.

“ERMA has aggravated the situation by failing to analyse or even sight some AgResearch reports, and accepted AgResearch statements of safety, and then determining that new approvals would not need HGT monitoring.”

“We have consistently called for independence of risk analysis and research monitoring. This situation shows yet again that GE field trial environmental safety monitoring in New Zealand is corrupted.”

Five years of AgResearch monitoring reports, released to GE Free New Zealand under the Official Information Act, have been reviewed by the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) at the University of Canterbury. Following peer review by international experts the INBI report has been published in the Journal of Organic Systems.

“AgResearch has not only breached its approval conditions by not testing as required, but continues to spread  effluent including milk, blood and foetal tissue from GE animals onto its pastures, which are frequently flooded and drain through adjacent farmland, waterways and under Hamilton to the Waikato River.” (4)

“Is the Waikato to be the next site of a new environmental disaster?”

“The INBI Report states that HGT includes the movements of gene vectors such as plasmids, viruses and transposable elements that are observed in both prokaryotes (e.g. bacteria) and eukaryotes (e.g., animals, plants and fungi), however AgResearch has effectively avoided any chance of finding this potentially risky movement and ERMA has allowed it,” said Mr Browning.

“The INBI report states, “By design of experiments, AgResearch ignored up to an estimated 99.9% of bacteria and all other kinds of microbes.””

“Not only was the sample selection incredibly small but sampling was nearly always taken a considerable distance away from where HGT would be best sampled. The INBI report (page 13) graphically portrays the avoidance of sampling where HGT may occur.”(5,6)

“The HGT science undertaken by AgResearch, a leading Crown Research Agency, is a national disgrace and follows breaches at all other CRI GE field tests in recent years.”

“This field trial must stop immediately. The risks of new genetic material leaking into the wider environment is too high and because AgResearch have lapsed professionally to such a degree, while cruelly experimenting with animals unnecessarily, and using considerable amounts of tax-payers money to try and produce pharmaceutical products that are already being produced in a much safer manner.”

Soil & Health – Organic NZ is grateful for the diligence of GE Free NZ in identifying the breach and applying to ERMA for a reassessment of the AgResearch approval, and commends Professor Jack Heinemann and the INBI team in producing such a robust report, and for the Journal of Organic Systems for its publication of independent research of this calibre.

References and diagrams.


EVALUATION OF HORIZONTAL GENE TRANSFER MONITORING EXPERIMENTS CONDUCTED IN NEW ZEALAND BETWEEN 2004 AND 2009. Jack A. Heinemann1,2*, Brigitta Kurenbach1,2 and Nikki Bleyendaal1  1Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety and the School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch New Zealand  2GenØk – Centre for Biosafety, Tromsø, Norway.  Corresponding author. Phone +64 3 364 2500 email   03 3642926   021 0239 7321

(2)  “There are potentially non-negligible risks to the environment that are not related to the ability of the cattle to escape. These risks include unintended insertion of viral cell receptors and creation of new viral reservoirs, and adverse effects arising as a result of HGT” (p. 47 ERMANZ, 2002, emphasis added). …

“significant uncertainty as to the magnitude and likelihood of the adverse effect arising” (p. 21 ERMANZ 2002).  …

“Micro-organisms shall be tested for the presence of the introduced genetic modifications at the disposal sites. If HGT is detected, genetic modification and disposal of cattle shall be immediately halted” (p. 58 ERMANZ, 2002). …

INBI Report -Journal of Organic Systems page 4 ; The Authority concluded that “[w]ith these controls in place, the combined non-negligible risks referred to above are considered to be low, even after taking account of uncertainty” (p. 48 ERMANZ, 2002). The Authority directly tied monitoring of soil microorganisms to its risk assessment, and encouraged monitoring to be “as extensive as possible” (p. 21 ERMANZ, 2002), saying of many additional controls that “[i]n general, these restrictions are aimed at removing classes of risk associated with HGT, viral and prion diseases, and antibiotic resistance” (p. 46 ERMANZ, 2002).

(3)    2. “Micro-organisms shall be tested for the presence of the introduced genetic modifications at the disposal sites. If HGT is detected, genetic modification and disposal of cattle shall be immediately halted” (p. 58 ERMANZ, 2002).

(4)    Attached photographs of offal pits, flooding, drains and drainage sump. All photographs available at a higher resolution. Photographs of GE cattle and goats also available.

(5)    From the INBI Report – Journal of Organic Systems page 13. Therefore, for all but one sampling exercise, the soil was a minimum of 1.7 m from contact with the microbes that would have been in contact with carcasses (Table 1). Because of compensation for subsidence and because AgResearch may have buried the carcasses much deeper, the samples could have been up to 5.8 m from the soil layer in first contact with carcasses11. If the average soil bacterium is about 1 µm (1 one millionth of a metre) in diameter, within the time between filling the pit and sampling, a recombinant bacterium would have to migrate a minimum distance 1.7 million times its size in a dry pit, or the gene would have to transfer a minimum of 1.7 million times, against gravity directly toward the surface in order to have the potential to be detected.

(6)    From the IMBI Report – Journal of Organic Systems Figure 2. Sampling depth and effect on experimental findings.

(A) AgResearch sampled soil from offal pits (cylinders in figure) at varying distances from the surface (depth, in metres). The reports did not specify the how close the carcasses came to the surface in the actual pits sampled. The carcasses may have been between 5.8 and 2 m from the surface (they had to be a minimum of 2 m deep to comply with ERMANZ control 1.4). There was no indication of whether any soil sampled was in contact with the carcasses, but it is possible that it was for samples taken in 2004. Depth and year at which samples were taken are shown as black bars.

(B) Soil (grey) subsidence in the pits over time was compensated through the addition of fresh soil (dark grey). The reports made no mention of whether soil was added to pits prior to sampling. Since subsistence takes time, samples taken before the addition of fresh soil to the pits were in most years both likely to have been well above the interface with carcasses (which were about a minimum of 1.7 m lower than sample depth) and to have provided too little time for the appearance of a target population of detectable size. Samples taken after the pits were topped up would have been in fresh soil never in contact with the carcasses.  AgResearch reports a variety of sampling depths. But only in the 2004 report was sampling beyond 30 cm, and in the 2009a report, sampling was to the depth of only 15 cm
(Figure 2A).

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