October date for GM horse vaccine hearing

September 18, 2008

October 7 has been set down for a public hearing over an application to import into New Zealand an equine flu vaccine containing genetically modified canary pox virus.

The application is the first for a conditional release of a genetically modified organism in New Zealand.

The public hearing has been scheduled by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) in Wellington.

A total of 29 submissions were received over the New Zealand Racing Board and Equine Health Association application to import the Proteqflu and Proteqflu Te vaccines.

Proteqflu vaccine was crucial in Australia's successful nine-month battle to contain an outbreak of highly contagious horse flu. The Te variant covers tetanus as well as equine flu.

The hearing has been called because some submitters have expressed a wish to be heard.

Equine influenza caused major disruption to the Australian horse racing and breeding industries, with a knock-on effect for the New Zealand industry, with horses still stranded across the Tasman.

The applicants argue the GM vaccine would be the most effective tool available to fight any equine flu incursion in New Zealand. Proteqflu confers immunity on horses quicker than any other equine flu vaccine. The wider risks from the genetically modified canary pox virus which forms the key component of the vaccine are low, they argue.

They propose its use only in the event of an outbreak and for horses bound for export markets where inoculation with this vaccine is mandatory before entry.

The Green Party has said it will oppose the application.

"I am amazed that for the benefit of Australasia's gambling industry we are putting our GE-Free status at risk," says party co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.

"We already have genetic engineering here but the Green Party has been successful in keeping it in the laboratory or under strict control in field trials. We can still boast our farms and environment are GE-free."

ERMA is preparing an evaluation and review Report on the application which will analyse the risks, costs and benefits of the GM vaccine. It will also look at the types of conditions that could be placed on the vaccine if it were to be approved.

This report will be a source of information for the decision-making committee, which will consider potential adverse effects on public safety and health, valued species, societies and communities, the economy, the environment and natural habitats.

ERMA New Zealand's responsibility is limited to the GM micro-organism component of the vaccine. Approval to use the vaccine must also be obtained from the NZ Food Safety Authority's Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines group.

The hearing will be held at Te Aro Room 1, the Terrace Convention Centre, Level 4, St John's House, 114 The Terrace, Wellington.