May 21, 2003
By Simon Collins - Science Reporter
New Zealand Herald
AgResearch has won more money for work on genetically modified cattle, even though it is still subject to a High Court challenge.
The state-owned company announced yesterday that it had won $5.4 million a year for its genetic modification (GM) and cloning work from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
It also said it proposed to close its Wallaceville research centre in Upper Hutt. Most of the centre's 140 staff would be offered new jobs at Palmerston North or Dunedin.
The news outraged Mothers Against Genetic Engineering (Madge), which filed in January for a judicial review of the approval the Environmental Risk Management Authority granted last year for GM work.
Madge spokeswoman Alannah Currie said the Government was throwing away taxpayers' money because the world did not want to eat GM foods.
In the High Court last month, Justice Ellen France ruled against an AgResearch application to make Madge pay $30,000 security for costs in advance of the court case. A three-day hearing of the substantive claim starts on June 9.
AgResearch chief executive Keith Steele said the court case would hold up plans to bring in outside investors in a new company which will take over the GM and cloning work. But the Government money would give the work "quite a boost" in the meantime.
The institute has said in the past that it hoped to genetically modify cows so that they produced milk containing a human protein that could help treat multiple sclerosis.
Dr Steele said that was still an initial goal, but the new company would aim at "new targets" as well.
He said the decision to close the 98-year-old Wallaceville research centre was to concentrate research in three "globally competitive" centres at Ruakura (Hamilton), Palmerston North and Invermay (Dunedin).
All 85 scientists at Wallaceville would keep their jobs if they were willing to shift. Animal health researchers, about two-thirds of the total, would go to Palmerston North, and fertility experts, comprising the other third, would go to Invermay.
Some of the 55 technicians and support staff would also be offered relocation, but some would be made redundant.
"I can't really say how many positions will be cut for those staff until the proposal is formalised," Dr Steele said.
The national secretary of the Public Service Association, Richard Wagstaff, said staff were taken by surprise when Dr Steele announced the proposal at Wallaceville yesterday.
"These are very much life-changing sorts of announcements about where you will live," he said. "They have families, and there are other considerations."
He said the union would encourage its members to think about the proposal
rather than respond quickly. Dr Steele said a final decision would be made
by the end of July.
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