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Oxford prof says NZ shouldn't lift moratorium

(Saturday, Jan. 25, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Otago Daily Times (New Zealand), 01/10/2003 -- The Otago Daily Times said the Government plans to lift a moratorium on the release of genetically-modified organisms have been criticised by the head of Oxford University's zoology department, Prof Alan Cooper.

Genetic modification techniques had a valuable role to play in the laboratory, said Prof Cooper (36), a New Zealander, who was born in Dunedin but grew up near Wellington.

The ODT said however, he opposed New Zealand Government plans to allow a moratorium on the commercial release of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) to expire in October.

The scientific precautionary principle should apply to any environmental release of GMOs, given the precise outcome was unknown, he said in an interview in Dunedin.

Unless "100% guarantees" of safety could be given, such organisms should not be released.

New Zealand had a strong competitive advantage by being able to promote its foodstuffs as coming from a nuclear-free and GM-free environment.

Once GMOs were released, New Zealand's strong marketing position as a food exporter to Britain would be badly compromised, he warned.

British consumers and supermarkets had rejected GM food, and customers were prepared to pay a big premium for organically-grown produce, he said.

Prof Cooper, who gained a doctorate in biochemistry and genetics at Victoria University of Wellington in 1994, is an award-winning scientist and is believed to be the youngest zoology professor in the history of Oxford University.

He gave a public talk at the Otago Museum last night on his studies of ancient DNA, including that of extinct birds such as the dodo and the moa.

Prof Cooper is director of the Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre at Oxford University.

The centre is a leader in the analysis of ancient DNA.

Source: Otago Daily Times 10 January 2003