8 Oct 2008

Imports of vaccine against equine influenza opposed

6:52 am on 8 October 2008

An anti genetic engineering group has raised concerns about what it sees as a threat to New Zealand bird populations from importing a genetically modified vaccine to protect horses against equine influenza.

The New Zealand Racing Board and the Equine Health Association applied to the Environmental Risk Management Authority to bring in the live vaccine following an outbreak in Australia last year.

It would be used to control any outbreak here or to vaccinate New Zealand horses travelling to countries where there's a risk of the disease.

At a hearing on Tuesday, ERMA heard from the applicants and eight of the groups and individuals who made submissions on what would be the first conditional release of a genetically modified organism in this country.

And one of the submitters, the GE Free New Zealand group, has raised fears about the risk to farmed and wild bird populations, because the vaccine is engineered with a vector from the canary pox virus.

Spokesperson Claire Bleakley says if that virus mutated and escaped into the environment, it could mean extinction for native birds and reptiles that are already endangered.

However, ERMA has assessed the likelhood of that happening as negligible in a report evaluating the risks, costs and benefits of importing the horse flu vaccine.