The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) yesterday proposed changes to Australia’s Gene Technology Regulations that would leave risky new genetic modification (GM) techniques such as CRISPR unregulated. They would also make Australia the first country in the world to deregulate these techniques.

Louise Sales from Friends of the Earth’s Emerging Tech Project said “if the OGTR deregulates these new GM techniques anyone would be free to use them to genetically modify plants, animals and microbes. They could enter our food chain and our environment with no safety testing and no labelling. The results could be catastrophic.”

Reviews commissioned by the Austrian and Norwegian governments concluded there is insufficient knowledge regarding the risks posed by these techniques and that products derived from them should require a comprehensive case-by-case risk assessment. Because of these risks, last month over 60 international scientists signed a statement calling for these techniques to be strictly regulated as GMOs. Furthermore, new research has shown that the genetic modification technique CRISPR can result in hundreds of unexpected mutations.

“Other countries have taken a more cautious approach, with New Zealand recently announcing that it will regulate organisms derived from these techniques as GMOs” said Ms Sales.

The European Union has yet to make a decision on whether it will regulate these techniques as GM. The question has been taken to the European Court of Justice. This will rule next year whether a number of these new GM techniques fall under EU GMO law.

“These techniques are quite clearly genetic engineering – the fact that the OGTR is even considering not regulating them demonstrates how captured the agency has become by industry interests,” said Ms Sales.

The OGTR recommended that these techniques be deregulated following advice from scientists in its Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee (GTTAC) with serious conflicts of interest.

“It’s time our regulators stopped letting industry write the rules for them and put public health and our environment before private profit”, concluded Ms Sales.