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Events leading up to expiry of GE moratorium

http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,2709190a7693,00.html

30 October 2003
NZPA

Some of the events leading up to the expiry of the Government's moratorium on commercial release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms at midnight:

July 1995

- Then environment minister Simon Upton rejects initial application from Scottish company PPL Therapeutics to farm transgenic sheep in NZ when his ministry's "interim assessment group" says risks, such as sheep escaping and breeding with other stock, outweighed the potential benefits.

May 1996

- PPL succeeds with renewed application for fewer sheep and gains permission to buy 58ha farm in south Waikato.

March 1997

- PPL puts semen from GE rams in Scotland into east friesian ewes in New Zealand.

July 1998

- Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 takes effect for genetic engineering and other new organisms.

- New Zealanders first fed on GE potatoes, developed by Crop and Food Research scientists with a copy of a gene from the human gut bacteria E coli in a project to give the plants higher levels of antioxidants and resistance to aphids. The taste-test pre-dated current regulation of GE trials, but a Crop and Food scientist later claimed to the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) that in being eaten the potatoes had been "returned to containment", as specified in conditions for the experiment.

November 1998

- Erma starts public hearings on GE applications with approval of less controversial applications, such as for GE sugarbeet.

December 1998

- PPL seeks full-scale "field trial" Erma's first involving GE animals to produce human alpha-1-antitrypsin (recombinant hAAT) from sheep milk carrying a genetic code from a Danish woman. The protein was to be used in medical experiments to see if it could mitigate cystic fibrosis.

March 1999

- PPL has 147 transgenic sheep in NZ when given approval to boost the flock size, initially to 1000 ewes and later to 10,000. PPL also said it was working on commercially producing BSSL (bile salt stimulated lipase) an enzyme that broke down fats.

August 2000

- The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification holds its first public meeting in Wellington.

February 2000

- Salmon farming company NZ King Salmon Co, earlier accused of breeding mutant fish, announces it has killed all its GE fish and buried them.

July 2000

Erma says requirements to take into account the relationship of Maori and their culture and taonga, and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi "do not extend to requiring the community as a whole to accept Maori spiritual beliefs". It approves Agresearch's use of human gene codes in cattle.

December 2000

- The Government takes steps to test imported crop seed at the border for contamination with GE seed after a company with export orders for GE-free corn tested its imported seed and found it was tainted.

January April 2001

- Royal Commission hearings are held. Among presentations to the commission were that genetic engineering could be used to remove pests such as possums and that modified animals were an integral part of modern biomedical research.

Others said GE should not be allowed for ethical reasons whilst the Green Party went so far as to say GE bacteria could destroy all life on Earth.

There were 10,000 public submissions, 4600 pages of formal hearing transcripts and 107 submissions from "interested persons".

April 2001

- Ruakura Research Centre, near Hamilton, is attacked, apparently by anti-GE activists using molotov cocktails.

May 2001

- Multiple sclerosis patient Graeme Sinclair decides to camp out in a paddock to protect Agresearch cows at Ruakura which have been given human gene codes. It was hoped their calves would produce a special protein in their milk with potential to fight MS.

May 2001

- Erma decides six cows carrying calves with a copy of a human gene implanted during a controversial experiment can live.

July 2001

- The Royal Commission report is released. It recommends against the extremes of banning the technology altogether or giving biotechnology companies free rein. Instead, it calls for GE to be used only in carefully managed ways.

August 2001

- A moratorium on applications to release and field test genetically modified organisms is extended to October 31.

- New Zealand's biggest poultry company, Tegel Foods, switches to chicken feed made only from non-GE crops after negative publicity about the practice. October 2001

- Government announces it will follow the Royal Commission recommendations:

December 2001

- New mandatory labelling laws for GE foods come into effect.

January 2002

- Police investigate an attack on GE potato crops worth hundreds of thousands of dollars at a Crop and Food Research, Lincoln, laboratory.

May 2002

- The Greens walk out of Parliament then a bill is passed restricting GE testing to laboratories, but allowing the moratorium to be automatically lifted in October next year unless it is extended.

July 2002

- Nicky Hager launches his book Seeds of Distrust and "corngate" affair. He claims thousands of corn plants, from a shipment of GE contaminated seeds, were grown around New Zealand last year.

TV3 journalist John Campbell interviews Prime Minister Helen Clark about the book. She says she was ambushed, not knowing anything about the allegations in advance.

August 2002

- Tests confirm GE maize crops in Gisborne and Pukekohe after their discovery is announced earlier in the month.

June 2003

- Drug company Bayer AG stops venture with PPL to produce recombinant hAAT in sheep. PPL announces job and financial losses.

September 2003

- PPL board says it is putting company up for sale starts slaughtering New Zealand's biggest and oldest flock of genetically engineered sheep.

- Corngate erupts again, with PM denying she knew about related papers which were withheld during the election campaign.

October 14 2003

- Parliament votes 92-24 to pass the New Organisms and Other Matters Bill, which allows conditional release of GE organisms.

October 24 It is revealed that more than 90 Subway stores in Japan stopped selling sandwiches after it was discovered their bread dough, made by Taranaki-based Yarrows, contained an unauthorised GE micro-organism as one of its ingredients.

October 29 GE moratorium expires at midnight.
 

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