The genetically modified (GM) crop industry is pissed off. It’s been over 20 years since the introduction of the first GM crops to Australia and the majority of our food remains GM free – because quite frankly we don’t want to eat GMOs.
However, the GM crop industry has a plan. Aided and abetted by the Federal Government they have four key objectives this year:
- Ensure that new GM techniques such as CRISPR are not regulated as GMOs – so they can use them in our food with no safety testing and no labelling.
- Remove the ability of states to introduce GM crop bans – so they can introduce GM wheat unobstructed.
- Remove GM labelling so they can sneak GMOs into our food without us knowing – even more than they already do.
- Allow GM contamination in organics – so we are really unable to avoid GMOs in food.
In the past couple of years a Government Inquiry into Agricultural Innovation and a Productivity Commission report into the Regulation of Australian Agriculture made precisely these recommendations. If it sounds like a stitch up that’s because it almost certainly is.
The Government has now announced a review of its National Gene Technology Scheme. This is where these recommendations will be implemented so our regulators need to hear from you!
Here are a few points that you could make:
New GM techniques
- The definition of Gene Technology and GMOs in the Gene Technology Act are deliberately broad in order to capture new GM techniques such as gene editing. This definition should not be changed.
- Gene technology is not precise. Gene editing techniques such as CRISPR can all cause unexpected mutations. They pose the same risks as older GM techniques and their use needs to be regulated in plants, animals and microbes.
State GM crop bans
- GM contamination is inevitable wherever GM crops are grown. States must be allowed to protect their markets using GM crop bans if they want to.
- GM labelling was introduced in Australia for consumer choice not health reasons and is supported by the overwhelming majority of consumers.
- Our current labelling regime is woefully inadequate – we should have the same right to know what is in our food as Europeans do.
- Processed GM ingredients such as canola oil and synbio vanillin produced by GM yeast should be labelled for consumer choice.
- The GM contamination of organic foods should not be allowed. The organic industry and the public should not be punished because the GM crop industry cannot control contamination.
Safety assessment and monitoring
- The current process based – rather than a product based – assessment regime is appropriate for assessing the unique risks posed by GMOs.
- The reference to the precautionary principle in the Gene Tech Act needs to be strengthened, implemented and enforceable.
- The current scheme for assessing the safety of GM crops and foods needs to be overhauled so it doesn’t rely solely on data provided by the company that is applying to commercialise the GMO.
- Comprehensive profiling methods (such as omics) should be used to identify any unintentional mutations in GMOs.
- A monitoring system is needed to detect any long term unexpected effects from consuming GM foods.
- The entire environmental impact of GM crops needs to be assessed, including the rapid increase in the use of herbicides associated with them.
- The Gene Tech Act must be amended to ensure that the biotech industry is strictly liable for any losses that result due to GM contamination.
- The public should be allowed to appeal decisions made under the Gene Tech Act in the same way that industry is currently allowed to.