AgResearch has been granted approval to continue genetic engineering research on goats, sheep and cattle, using human DNA, to produce human therapeutic proteins in milk.

The state-owned science company received approval from the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) to genetically modify bacterial and mammalian cells, mice, goats, sheep and cattle at its Ruakura facility, near Hamilton. Controls were imposed to prevent animal products from reaching the food chain.

The decision is separate to four other applications under consideration to allow AgResearch to further its GE research into transgenic animals, which have been genetically engineered to contain the genes from other species.

The application was for research and development to completion for proof-of-concept, not field tests.

The DNA constructs would be used in mice before being used to modify large animals such as cattle.

SAFE has condemned the decision by Erma. "AgResearch proposes to conduct highly contentious and potentially cruel GE experiments on animals that include field trials of genetically modified farm animals. New Zealand can say goodbye to its clean, green image and expect to see widespread suffering on genetically modified animals," says SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek.

SAFE is also concerned that much of this GE research to breed and produce transgenic livestock will be undertaken indoors in confinement systems. "The commercial production of transgenic livestock is likely to lead to the reduced welfare of the animals used in addition to the risks associated with breeding transgenic animals," says Hans.

"For example, AgResearch noted in one application that commercial herds of transgenic goats may be kept indoors to meet pharmaceutical regulatory requirements. This would prevent the animals from being able to express their natural behaviour, as is required under the Animal Welfare Act 1999. In addition, indoor confinement of livestock has been shown to result in poor welfare, including lameness and stereotypic behaviour," he said.