22 Nov 2008

Green light for use of GM horse vaccines

1:29 pm on 22 November 2008

The use of genetically-modified organisms has been approved in New Zealand for the first time.

The Environmental Risk Management Authority has sanctioned an application for two genetically-modified equine flu vaccines to be held for use in case of an outbreak.

The authority says approval for the GM organism-based vaccines was given after deciding that the benefits outweighed any risk to the environment.

The New Zealand Racing Board and the Equine Health Association jointly applied for the right to use the genetically-modified vaccines.

The racing industry says if equine influenza was discovered in New Zealand it could cost the economy as much as $800 million a year.

GE-Free New Zealand says it believes the racing industry was pressured into calling for genetically-modified horse flu vaccines.

President Claire Bleakley says there is no need for the vaccines and the industry may have been pressured to apply for their use.

"I believe that there is probably incredible company and money pressure behind the industry," she says. "The industry has not necessarily chosen to do this, probably the vaccine manufacturer has approached them and asked them to consider it as part of their toolbox."

Ms Bleakely says the decision compromises New Zealand's environment and could heighten the risk to endangered native birds.

She says there is little case for the new vaccines, given that non-GM based vaccines are available.

However, the Racing Board says the GM vaccines will be crucial in tackling any outbreak of equine influenza in New Zealand. Chief executive officer Graham Hansen says they have proven effective in other countries and are needed here.