Strong opposition to GE milk

ALI TOCKER
Last updated 10:50 02/10/2012
MODIFIED MILK-MAKER: AgResearch’s genetically-modified cloned cow Daisy.
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MODIFIED MILK-MAKER: AgResearch’s genetically-modified cloned cow Daisy.

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GE Free New Zealand is strongly opposing AgResearch’s use of genetic modification in pursuit of allergen-free milk for children. 

Crown research institute AgResearch has announced a world-first breakthrough in genetic modification research, with the goal of producing hypoallergenic (low allergy) milk.

It has bred a genetically modified cloned calf producing milk in early trials with greatly reduced amounts of a protein known as beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), believed to be the leading cause of milk allergies in children.

The 11-month-old calf, Daisy, is in containment at AgResearch’s Ruakura site in Hamilton. She has a mysterious missing tail which AgResearch expects to know the cause of in a couple of weeks but believes is not linked to genetic modification.

GE Free New Zealand president Claire Bleakley said cows without the protein BLG was a “frightening development not a breakthrough”.

“This is a depraved macabre experiment that is the worst type of animal cruelty.”

Bleakley called on the New Zealand Ethics Board to shut down the research “immediately”. 

“AgResearch after 12 years of failure and hundreds of dead embryos has developed one calf, expressing less [BLG] than normal milk cows.

‘‘BLG is an essential part of milk. It lowers blood pressure ... It is essential for healthy digestion, immune system function and the formation of healthy bones skin, teeth and muscle development.”

The research was not needed as technology to remove BLG already existed, she said, providing a ‘‘highly successful business’’ with BLG removed from skim milk, cheese and butter. 

“Researchers that stoop so low as to manipulate the Mauri [spirit or life force] of an animal causing suffering, then pretend that this is a significant breakthrough when we already have business using technology to remove BLG, are inhumane.”

AgResearch’s research director Dr Warren McNabb said AgResearch was doing further experiments to confirm whether Daisy’s milk was hypoallergenic and could eventually be produced and marketed as such. Research to date involved inducing the calf to milk and next steps included getting her in calf so she could milk naturally, so that milk could be tested.

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“If we can see similar results in another lactation, we suddenly have cows’ milk without what everyone believes is the main allergen in cow’s milk,” he said.

Before the milk could be tasted by humans, tested in clinical trials on humans or produced commercially, New Zealand’s genetic modification policies would need to change, McNabb said. 

Bleakley said AgResearch’s experiments raised many questions including how many other calf embryos had been involved in the research and what had happened to them.

“Were they born deformed, euthanased at birth or aborted by the surrogate mothers? Did the mothers die in pregnancy or birthing? 

“Why do they have no tail? This calf is deformed and will possibly suffer from long term skeletal deformities, as BLG is an essential part of the cow’s make up.”

The Government should ask if the work was essential to humankind and what it would do to the economic viability of major exports, Bleakley said.

“When research is used for such cruelty then exporters may choose to buy milk commodities elsewhere further worsening our farmers’ plight.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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