By ANNE BESTON
An experiment involving goat and human genes in cows has effectively sidestepped scrutiny by a new ethics council.
State-owned AgResearch wants approval to continue its controversial work involving inserting a range of genes - including those of mice, humans and goats - into cows.
The stated aim of the research is to produce therapeutic proteins in cow's milk that could be used for pharmaceuticals or medicines.
But the timing of the application means it does not have to go before the Bio Ethics Council, which is being established with former Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves as chairman.
The council will consider the ethical, cultural and spiritual implications of genetic modification and was a key recommendation in last year's report from the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification.
GE-Free New Zealand has asked Environment Minister Marian Hobbs to "call in" the AgResearch application, a power she has under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.
"The fact that this application is not going to be considered by the Bio Ethics Council is outrageous and effectively sidesteps a key recommendation of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification that food animals should not be used in these sort of experiments," said spokesman Jon Carapiet.
A spokesman for the minister said the act allowed call-in powers to be used only within 15 days of the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) receiving the application. The application was submitted on May 1.
The AgResearch experiments will involve genetically modified embryos being transferred to conventional cows and the resulting "transgenic" calves used to evaluate the effect of the modification.
Eventually, AgResearch is likely to ask for permission to field test the transgenic animals under normal pastoral conditions, says a summary of the application by Erma staff.
This application is seen by both sides in the GM debate as a test of new rules the Government introduced after the commission report.
More than 850 submissions have been received by Erma, and 50 submitters have asked to address the hearing in Hamilton next week.
AgResearch has investigated the use of human genes in cattle foetuses at its Ruakura campus for more than two years. The original aim was to produce the human myelin basic protein in cow's milk, a possible treatment for multiple sclerosis.
GM opponents say the proteins can be produced synthetically.
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