Soil & Health Congratulates ERMA

The recommendations by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) staff that the Authority declines AgResearch’s four very broad applications for more genetically engineered (GE) animals was praised by the Soil & Health Association of NZ, which is generally seen as a critic of ERMA.
Soil & Health says that without such a recommendation, ERMA would have less reason for existence as any GE application would meet approval. ERMA has previously supported GE applications.
AgResearch submitted four applications to import, develop, and field test genetically engineered (GM/GE) organisms with an unlimited range of genetic modifications, techniques and traits for an unlimited duration and for use within indoor or outdoor containment facilities at unspecified locations. Ahead of a proposed June hearing, the ERMA staff Evaluation and Review Report, in recommending the applications be declined, said that not being able to identify the range of GE organisms means that they were unable to identify the nature of the organism or associated hazards.
However Soil & Health says that previous AgResearch GE animal applications approved by ERMA are also too broad and without actual GE organisms being identified, and ERMA is now using semantics in response to legal challenges driven by GE Free NZ. (1)
“It is very pleasing that ERMA has made the recommendations, but by suggesting that the lack of a description of the range of genetic modifications drove its decision, it fails to acknowledge that the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO Act) requires individual GE constructs and organisms to be identified. It also fails to acknowledge that it has previously approved other applications with similar shortcomings,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.
“ERMA has already been granting applications that have equally broad ranges, with a decision last September allowing AgResearch to experiment on cats, dogs, pigs, guinea pigs, sheep, mice, rats, rabbits, possums, cattle, goats, and chickens using genetic material from almost any form of life.”(2)
“That decision included, “Donor genetic material may be derived from the Kingdoms Animalia, Planta, Fungi, Protista and Monera and viruses and viroids…”.”
“While the location and the actual host organisms were identified, as were some general intentions of the research, the GE organisms were not, and so although ERMA was unable to identify the nature of the organism or associated hazards, it approved that application.”
“For hazard control, ERMA relied only on a series of exclusions around pathogenic organisms and on AgResearch meeting containment standards. But unintended results are standard with genetic engineering and containment breaches are common. ERMA and the community must be able to identify any new organism and comment on the associated known or potential associated risks.”
“Today’s recommendation follows GE Free NZ’s previous legal challenges and opens the door for reassessment of previous decisions.”
“Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 and will continue to oppose the cruel experimentation of GE animals. Genetic engineering has not brought any of the benefits promised by its advocates, but has caused considerable harm in many parts of the world. GE does not fit with New Zealand’s clean green trading image or the wishes of most New Zealanders.”
1. CIV-2008-485-2370 GE Free NZ v ERMA

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