In the first of a new series of hard-hitting opinion pieces, Claire Bleakley, president of GE-free NZ in Food and Environment, gives her take on how GE crops—and now livestock—have been quietly moving into New Zealand, a country that has traditionally been an opponent of genetic engineering. In the spirit of impartiality, FoodNavigator-Asia has contacted AgResearch for a response, which we will publish shortly.
New Zealand prides itself on feeding its animals fresh, GE-free grass. However, it seems that things are starting to change.
Indeed, recently this marketing image, which 90% of farmers aspire to, was shredded to ribbons when it was announced that GE feed had entered the animal feed chain. And then there was the story of an inhumane experiment on a GE calf was also announced.
First GE calf
In October, AgResearch declared its success in genetically engineering livestock. After 12 years of failure—and hundreds of dead embryos—New Zealand’s largest crown research institute declared that it had bred one deformed calf, with the animal expressing less of the beta-LactoGlobulin (BLG) protein in its milk than normal cows.
BLG is an essential part of milk. It lowers blood pressure by removing the fatty acids that inhibit enzyme lipases and enhances the absorption of vitamins A, D and E, and iron. For those who can tolerate milk, BLG is essential for healthy digestion, immune system function, the formation of healthy bones, skin and teeth, and muscle development.
BLG is removed from skim milk, cheese and butter, and is destroyed by pasteurisation. Although the breakdown products can cause allergies, the existing technology that removes the protein from our milk is a highly successful business.
The BLG-free calf is a frightening development, and it certainly isn’t a breakthrough. It is inhumane to carry out research that manipulates animals and causes suffering. We should not pretend that this is a significant breakthrough when we already have businesses using technology to remove BLG.
AgResearch’s experiment only details one calf. However, the experiment has taken 12 years and used thousands of embryos—and all but one have failed to produce a live animal. The recipient cows would suffer from pregnancy complications, causing many to abort, while others would be euthanased for humane reasons.
The calves that were born would only live for a few hours before the deformities they suffered caused them to die, or they were euthanased like their mothers.
The calf that was born suffers from a pelvic deformity and a swollen abdomen. It will also possibly suffer from long-term skeletal deformities that will cause it to die young.
The experiment that is the worst type of animal cruelty and it does not look good for scientists who are involved in the experiment to trivialise animal suffering for such a non-essential product.
Struggle to stay GE-free
This comes just when we are seeing pressure on New Zealand’s GE-free status, which is being challenged by the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the rise in GE animal food being imported through the Monsanto partnership company, Cargill.
Most farmers in New Zealand believed that the supplements they fed their animals were GE-free. But they have been shocked and angry at the surreptitious way the food was silently shipped and distributed around the grain companies of New Zealand without being told it was GE. After all, GE animal feed does not need to be labelled.
One of New Zealand’s leading dairies is staying silent on its knowledge of the levels of GE coming into the country, while some of our meat processing companies have made use of GE supplements that are strictly prohibited in their contracts.
But it is not all bleak, and it is heartening to see that many of our companies are maintaining their high standards of integrity. For example, the Maori-owned Miraka Company prohibits any milk it is supplied with from GE-fed animals, and the Guardians Company does not allow farmers to use imported supplements for its operation.
Moreover, certification standards for organic farmers prohibit the use of any GE in the growing and supply chain.
It is therefore heartening to hear that many New Zealand farmers and companies are taking it all very seriously as they move to prohibit all GE feed in their supply chain.