Scientists at AgResearch must apply for approval to work with transgenic animals. If their application is approved, they follow strict guidelines for care and containment of the animals.

Transgenic cows are new organisms

In New Zealand, transgenic cows are classed as new organisms and are regulated by the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act. The HSNO Act is overseen by the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA provides rules rules and regulations for introducing any hazardous substances or new organisms to New Zealand.

Applying to work with transgenic organisms

Scientists at AgResearch must apply to EPA before they can begin their research. EPA evaluates the benefits and risks of any research and decides whether the work can begin. It also encourages public submissions on applications. Public submissions are a valuable means of contributing to decision-making because they raise issues and provide a variety of perspectives.

Anyone can make a submission on an application, which can support it, oppose it or support some parts and oppose others. Applications to EPA can be viewed on the EPA website.

Consultation with Māori

As part of the HSNO Act, scientists at AgResearch consult with Māori at a local and national level through meetings or hui. Together, they consider the risks and benefits an application may pose to Māori culture or traditional relationships with ancestral lands, water, sites, wāhi tapu, valued flora and fauna or other taonga.

Animal containment facility

The EPA may place restrictions or require certain standards to be followed before giving approval for transgenic research work. For example, the transgenic cows at AgResearch are kept in a special containment facility at Ruakura and the following standards are adhered to:

  • Double 2 metre high fencing.
  • Each cow has two forms of ID (for example, an ear tag and microchip).
  • Extensive animal records are kept.
  • Transgenic animals cannot leave the facility.
  • Strict rules for waste disposal.
  • Environmental monitoring.
  • Restricted access.

The animal containment facility is monitored by the EPA and is audited annually.

Disposing of waste on the farm

All waste materials from the transgenic cow facility must be disposed of on site. Milk is treated by fermentation, then diluted and sprayed over the pasture. After consultation with local Māori, it was agreed that all animal carcases would be buried on site.

Monitoring environmental impact

As part of the EPA approval process, AgResearch monitors the soil, pasture and groundwater on the facility to assess the impact of the transgenic cattle on the environment. Soil samples are tested to see whether transgenes from the cows have been transferred to soil bacteria – a process called horizontal gene transfer. To date, there is no evidence of this happening.

Future of transgenic cow research

AgResearch applied to continue its transgenic cow research programme in November 2009 and the application was approved in 2010. While AgResearch still maintains its containment facility, the bulk of its research now focuses on pastoral farming and funding for biomedical research has ceased.

In its 2017 report to the EPA, AgResearch said that it housed around 40 transgenic cows in its Waikato facility – almost all for casein and beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) research. One MBP cow born in 2013 represented the transgenic line. She gave birth to a healthy male Hereford-cross calf in 2016 but she was euthanised in 2017 due an injury.

    Published 24 February 2010, Updated 8 March 2018