Environmental group raises concerns over GM vaccine

October 8, 2008

Concerns over the potential effects of genetically modified canarypox virus on New Zealand native birds were raised at a hearing yesterday considering an application to use a GM horse flu vaccine.

GE Free New Zealand voiced its concerns over an application for the conditional use of the Proteqflu and Proteqflu Te vaccines against equine influenza.

The Proteq vaccine was a key element in Australia's successful eradication of the disease following an outbreak last August.

The New Zealand Racing Board and New Zealand Equine Health Association have applied for use of the vaccine should an outbreak occur here, and for horses being exported into markets where inoculation with the vaccine is mandatory.

The Environmental Risk Management Agency (Erma) held a public hearing yesterday to hear from eight submitters who wished to be heard in person.

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

GE Free New Zealand voiced concern over the risks for New Zealand native birds should the virus mutate.

Spokesperson Claire Bleakley said in statement released yesterday: "This application is full of fish hooks and hidden caveats that could in the next two years see the GE vaccines used fairly frequently, but at what cost to New Zealand's trading reputation, environment and native fauna?

"One of the most concerning recommendations is that if this application is approved all similar types of vaccine aimed at future variants of the disease are also considered automatically approved."

New Zealand's international reputation and environment are also at risk, yet there have been no studies on the possibility of a spill or virus mutation escaping into our environment and waterway, she said.

"If a wild water bird is affected by vaccine shed in the water, the devastating effects could not be contained and we would have a massive biosecurity problem on our hands. This would put at risk our farmed birds as well as our already endangered native birds. With the threats from 1080 and now canary pox what hope do they have?"

"Our biosecurity and quarantine protections have until now been first grade and we are a disease-free country," Bleakley said. "It is greedy and stupid to introduce a live GE vaccine when we already have four less risky and effective vaccines to treat EI."

Erma, in its 135-page assessment and review of the application, found that the proposed conditional release would pose a negligible risk to the environment, human health and safety, and the economy.