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New Zealand Taxpayer 'designer' cows. Buyer beware.

New Zealand taxpayer funded 'designer' cows has cost New Zealand over 12 million dollars for 15 transgenic cows already. The private/ public partnership of PPL and AgResearch has bred only eleven 'Casein-plus' cows from 120 surrogate cows over two seasons. 30 'designer' calves reached term, 18 were alive and 12 dead at birth. Of the remaining twelve calves, post-natal losses caused six deaths, five died of enteritis or unidentifiable cause and one of abdominal perforation. Five were delivered by caesarean section. Only nine of the eleven surviving have shown an increase in casein production.

"Previous transgenic breeding trials have shown the animals do not breed true. By the third generation the improvement has gone. The gene becomes recessive and there is no significant transgene impact. However, the immune failures are still predominant". Says Claire Bleakley from GE Free (NZ) in Food and Environment.

For the farmer this means buying 'designer' cows carrying the cost of the patent but then not being able to sell on progeny. These cows pose a threat to the entire dairy industry. The cows are immune deficient and susceptible to immune system failure raising the cost of veterinary bills. To breed up a production herd of 200 it would take twelve years, using gene transfer every year. Dairy cows need high quality feed, as the amount of grass and clover vary so does the milk fat content. These eleven 'designer' cows are pampered and are living on clover and good feed.

To process the milk all the dairy facilities and tankers would have to be segregated. The market would be closed to Europe and Japan. Conventional dairy farmers would have to keep their cows within buffer zones so as not to be accused of passing on normal diseases that would make the transgenic cows sick. Liability, if transgenic cows went wild and mated other cows, could end up as a long court battle.

"Will the New Zealand taxpayer end up paying dearly if a transgenic pathogen is found?" Claire Bleakley is asking the Government, "We are in danger of creating a price war ending in a glut on the cheese and butter market, reduced prices for farmers and losses to the EU and Japanese market. Can the New Zealand beef and dairy industry afford to loose its high quality world standing when we are already achieving gains with conventional breeding programmes?"

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