Scientists plan human genes for cows, goats

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By Eloise Gibson

A proposal to put human genes into goats, sheep and cows to try to get the animals to make human proteins in their milk will be in the public spotlight next week.

Submitters will have Monday and Tuesday to tell the Environmental Risk Management Authority what they think of plans by AgResearch to breed and keep genetically modified animals at its Ruakura research facility, near Hamilton.

AgResearch says that if the experiment works, proteins from the animals could be used to make cheaper "biopharmaceuticals" to treat human diseases.

The company has already been breeding transgenic cows. Now it wants approval to continue working with the cows, and add sheep and goats to the trial.

The breast cancer drug Herceptin was developed using genetic modification and AgResearch says such treatments have "huge" marketvalue.

But opponents say it has exaggerated the possible benefits of the trial, and given authorities far too little information about what it plans to do with the proteins if it can makethem.

More than 90 per cent of the 1545 people who made written submissions opposed the plan - most using a pre-prepared form. Four submissions supported it and six did not say.

The application comes after the High Court blocked a 2008 application by AgResearch for laboratory testing of human and monkey cell lines and the development of GE cows, buffalo, sheep, pigs, goats, llamas, alpacas, deer and horses.

The court ruled that Erma was wrong to accept the applications, after GE Free New Zealand argued AgResearch had given too little information about the new organisms to be created or where they would be developed and tested.

AgResearch has appealed and the applications are stuck in the court system. Meanwhile, it wants approval for part of the proposal relating to sheep, goats and cows at Ruakura.

Soil and Health Association spokesman Steffan Browning said the new application was still too broad and questioned why it was being heard when the main application was still before the courts.

Another group, the Sustainability Council, said in its submission that AgResearch appeared to be getting into the habit of applying for permits for cloned, transgenic animals while giving away little about the products they were trying to create.

The public hearings begin at 9am on Monday at the Novotel Tainui Hotel in Hamilton.

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