Hamilton: Sixty pregnant cows with human genes have been granted a two-week stay of execution while the High Court considers the future of New Zealand's best-known genetic experiment.
A final decision on the future of the animals, which are being used in a contentious experiment designed to produce a special milk protein that may help sufferers of multiple sclerosis, is expected at a High Court hearing this week.
AgResearch, the company carrying out the experiment, applied for a stay of a court decision delivered last Wednesday, which set aside approval for its controversial myelin cattle project.
The experiment involves inserting a human gene-copy into dairy cows to produce a special protein in their milk, which it is hoped could lead to help for sufferers of multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that strikes the central nervous system.
The court late on Friday approved a temporary stay of execution pending this week's full application.
AgResearch's chief executive, Dr Keith Steele, said his main concern was to keep the cows alive. Their calves are due next month.
The company had made a new application for approval to the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), and Dr Steele expected to know this week when it would be heard. There was no need to destroy the cattle while the new application was being considered.
ERMA's chief executive, Dr Bas Walker, said the authority would move as quickly as it could to have the application reconsidered.
Dr Steele said there were implications for the future of research in New Zealand from the current procedural wrangle.
"It is a real concern for us. It makes it very hard to do business in New Zealand and with the rest of the world," he said.
Dr William Rolleston, head of the Life Sciences Network, a group of organisations involved in biotechnology, told The Waikato Times the dispute could see top-level scientists join the brain-drain out of New Zealand.
The president of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Mr David Glenn, said the project had a lot of potential for the country's 3,500 sufferers and he was disappointed by the court's decision. Genetic engineering was one area of research that could result in a cure.
The co-leader of the Greens, Ms Jeanette Fitzsimons,
said that while the overturned application related to MS research, its real aim was to perfect genetic techniques so the dairy industry could make "designer milks".
New Zealand Press Association