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9-Misc: New Zealand Bioethics Council gives green light for GMOswith human genes

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TITLE:  Green light for human genes in plants and animals
SOURCE: New Zealand Herald, by Simon Collins
DATE:   26 Aug 2004 

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Green light for human genes in plants and animals

The Bioethics Council has given a green light to putting human genes into
plants and animals, provided that the benefits of reduced human suffering
outweigh suffering by the animals involved.

The council, in its first major report since it was created late in 2002,
has done an about-turn from a survey it published in January which found
that New Zealanders expressed "almost universal rejection" to putting
human genes into other organisms.

Its final report now says: "There was wide acceptance of the use of human
genes in other organisms for the relief of human suffering."

The report was welcomed today by both health researchers and animal
rights advocates, suggesting that it has found a middle way between the
two extremes.

The council was recommended by the Royal Commission on Genetic
Modification in 2001 to provide guidelines on social, ethical and
cultural aspects of biotechnology. Its conclusions are expected to guide
decisions on particular cases by the Environmental Risk Management
Authority (Erma).

Its first reports follow public controversy over projects such as
AgResearch's plan to put human genes into cows to make them express
proteins in their milk which might cure human diseases such as multiple

The council has held 12 hui involving 220 people, received 130
submissions and run an online discussion in which 27 people took part.

It found that in scientific terms it was difficult to define many genes
as strictly "human", because many common genes are found in all mammals
and some even in simpler animals and plants.

"However, genes are more than chemicals. They also have cultural
significance," it said.

"There is a concern among some that human genes should not enter the food
chain. While for some the concern is related to risk, there is also a
cultural issue in that it is inappropriate that human genes be in food.
We consider that this opinion should be respected."

The council has therefore endorsed the royal commission's proposals that
"wherever possible, non-food animals [should] be used as bioreactors
rather than animals that are a common source of food", and that wherever
possible genes should be made in the laboratory or taken from other
mammals rather than from humans.

In cases where alternatives are not possible, it said human genes should
be used in ways that respect "what is special about humans".

"The council opposes, most notably, those modifications that would give
non-human organisms the capacity for human language, and associated
powers of reason, and those that would cause non-human organisms to look
like humans," it said.

But giving animals human diseases could be justified if this helped to
develop a treatment or cure for the disease.

"The council would urge caution, and a careful weighing of likely
benefits against costs, but it would not necessarily oppose such a


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