ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

30 January 2003


from a recent letter:

"Dear NGIN

I have just read about the protein enhanced milk which it is hoped some cloned cows will produce. I am amazed that New Zealand, which I have always seen as a pure and unpolluted country, would do such research." (see item 1 - for how public research has been directed by private interests)

"Tasmania and Western Australia have already imposed a moratorium on the release of GM canola and the Network of Concerned Farmers is calling for other states to follow suit." (item 2)

1.Fonterra has a financial finger in GE milk project - Agresearch
2.Farmers ask states to put GM canola on ice


1.Fonterra has a financial finger in GE milk project - Agresearch

30 January 2003

Two sectors of the dairy industry, which are now part of the giant Fonterra cooperative, funded and advised the controversial breakthrough by Government scientists into creation of genetically engineered milk for food.

The project was co-funded by Fonterra's biotech company, Vialactia, according to a spokesman for crown science company Agresearch, Frank Fernandez.

And dairy industry experts from what is now the Fonterra Research Centre advised scientists at Agresearch on the targets for the project, which has just been written up in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology.

Mr Fernandez made the comment when asked the extent to which Fonterra's willingness to use the technology was driving the pace at which Agresearch was readying it for commercial use.

The Dairy Board set up Vialactia, but a spokesman for the board said in May 1999 that it (the board) was not funding the Agresearch project to produce genetically engineered milk. Agresearch was finally granted regulatory approval for engineering milk for commercial characteristics in November 1999, and the first calves were born a year later.

Today, Mr Fernandez said there was still a need to analyse the functional properties of the milk, for matters such as whether it improved milk processing.

"We anticipate this process to take at least another year," he said.

Another regulatory issue to be considered was food safety, although all the Agresearch scientists had done was to increase the quantity of a protein that was already in the milk.

The Hamilton researchers said their herd of nine transgenic cows born in 2000 made highly elevated levels of milk proteins - called casein - with improved processing properties and heat stability.

Cows have previously been engineered to produce proteins for medical purposes, but this is the first time the milk itself has been genetically enhanced.

The scientists, led by Dr Goetz Laible, engineered cells in the laboratory to overproduce casein proteins. The cells were then fused with cow eggs, and the resulting embryos were transferred into recipient cows, and 11 transgenic calves were born.

Nine were found to produce the enhanced milk, which the scientists hope will transform the cheese industry.

One protein, called kappa-casein, increases heat stability in the cheese-making process. The other, beta-casein, improves the process by reducing the clotting time of the rennet, which curdles the milk. It also increases the expulsion of whey, the watery part of milk which remains after the cheese has formed.

The GE cows are now producing milk with between 8 per cent and 20 per cent more beta-casein, and double the normal amount of kappa-casein.

The scientists said that controlling levels of the two proteins could offer big savings for cheese manufacturers.

"When projected on to the production scale of the dairy industry, the increases observed in our study represent large changes that would translate into substantial economic gains," they said.

Robert Welch of New Zealand Biotechnologies Ltd, said when approval for the research was sought that for every extra 1 percentage point of extra casein in GE milk, the dairy industry would benefit by $100 million a year.

Mr Fernandez said Agresearch had not introduced a new or foreign protein into the milk, but "food safety-wise ... there is still a need for further evaluation and it would not be possible, at this stage, to determine how long the regulatory process will take."

Asked whether Agresearch intended to wait for Fonterra or one of its subsidiaries to put the casein research into production, or offer it to non-New Zealand dairy companies, Mr Fernandez said the science company was legally required to "perform for the benefit of New Zealand".

But there were many ways for it do this. "Agresearch would be looking initially at possible local interest before venturing further afield to accrue the best possible return for New Zealand for the investment made in the research," he said.

When a similar issue arose in another state science company, Crop and Food, over its decision to license sell to Australians truffle technology developed with $1.35 million of public funds, New Zealand growers complained it breached the first requirement in the legislation governing crown research institutes: they undertake research for the benefit of New Zealand.

And the then Opposition spokesman on Agriculture, Jim Sutton,said such a deal would mean New Zealand would squander its head-start in that technology.


2.Farmers ask states to put GM canola on ice

ABC Australia

Australian farming groups opposed to genetically modified canola have appealed to state governments to put a moratorium on its expected commercial release this year.

They are worried about proposed voluntary guidelines that they say will be an economic burden on non-GM farmers.

Tasmania and Western Australia have already imposed a moratorium on the release of GM canola and the Network of Concerned Farmers is calling for other states to follow suit.

The group says the Grain Gene Technology Committee's guidelines mean all grain farmers would pay extra for segregating GM and non-GM canola.

Network spokesman Scott Kinnear say cross-contamination will also be inevitable because a five-metre buffer zone is a complete joke.

"There's very good evidence, including Australian research, showing contamination could go up to three kilometres and even evidence on Monsanto's own website showing 1 per cent contamination at 130 metres and 2 percent at 50 metres distance," Mr Kinnear said.

The New South Wales Farmers Association is yet to consider the protocols, before deciding whether to continue calling for a moratorium on the release of GM canola.

Mr Kinnear says the protocol would cost farmers dearly.

"Europe is moving in the very near future to label non-GM oils," he said. "China is moving to label oils as well.

"This could drive, and we believe will drive, a premium price for non-GM canola oil.

"That means that Australia, if we do release GM canola, will lose access to potentially a very profitable market."

The Australian Democrats' agriculture spokesman, John Cherry, has also criticised the committee, claiming it is dominated by multinational agri-corporations.

But the New South Wales Government says the Grain Gene Technology Committee represents the grain industry, science and government.

Agriculture Minister Richard Amery says the Government is willing to accept an assessment of the protocol by the federal regulator.

Mr Amery says he cannot say when or if the commercial release should go ahead.

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