Changes to the Gene Technology Regulations currently tabled in Federal Parliament will allow genetically modified (GM) wheat to be released in Australia with no safety assessment or traceability. The changes will leave the use of gene editing techniques such as CRISPR unregulated in animals, plants and microbes.

Louise Sales, Coordinator of Friends of the Earth’s Emerging Tech Project said “besides the serious risks to the environment and human health, there are also important economic risks to consider. We are calling on the Senate to protect our health, the environment and our food industry by disallowing these proposed changes”.

“Key export markets such as Europe regard these techniques as GM and have zero tolerance for the presence of unapproved genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Australia therefore risks complete market rejection if these techniques are deregulated here.”

“There are numerous examples of countries rejecting US imports because they couldn’t guarantee their shipments were free of unapproved GMOs. If Australia deregulates these techniques traceability will not be required. It’ll therefore be practically impossible for exporters to guarantee their products are free from unapproved GMOs.”

Julie Newman from the Network of Concerned Farmers said “The reason GM wheat is not commercialised anywhere in the world is because markets have stated they will immediately cancel wheat orders from any area growing GM, as contamination is inevitable.”

“If these amendments to the Gene Technology Regulations are allowed, gene edited wheat can be immediately introduced with no requirement for traceability or segregation, jeopardising global markets.”

“Our annual wheat exports are worth $7.1billion. Who will be liable for this massive economic loss if such a negligent decision is made?”

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has refused to release the 6 page advice it gave to the Legislative and Governance Forum on Gene Technology on the likely trade impacts of deregulating the new techniques. Daryl Quinlivan, Secretary of the Department admitted in Senate Estimates that there has been no comprehensive analysis of the market risks and stated it is an issue “producers and exporters will have to work out”.[1]

[1] Commonwealth of Australia (2019) Proof Committee Hansard Senate Estimates Hearing: Rural & Regional Affairs & Transport Legislative Committee: Estimates, Tuesday, February 19 2019, p. 15, available at: http://emergingtech.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Rural-and-Regional-Affairs-and-Transport-Legislation-Committee_2019_02_19_6944.pdffileTypeapplication_pdf.pdf