The Federal Government has asked states and territories to approve proposed changes to our Gene Technology Regulations that will make Australia the first country in the world to deregulate genetically modified (GM) animals. The Federal Government is proposing deregulating a range of new genetic modification (GM) techniques such as CRISPR that are being referred to as Site Directed Nucleases 1 (SDN-1). Members of the Legislative and Governance Forum on Gene Technology have been asked to sign off on the proposed changes by mid March.

Louise Sales, Coordinator of Friends of the Earth’s Emerging Tech Project said “We find it frankly incredible that the Federal Government is proposing deregulating these techniques. They are not as precise as has been claimed and can result in high levels of unexpected genetic mutations – raising serious environmental, animal welfare and food safety concerns.”

“In July 2018, the European Union’s top court ruled that gene editing techniques such as CRISPR pose similar risks to older GM techniques and need to be assessed for safety in the same way. Our key agricultural competitor New Zealand will also be regulating these techniques as GM.”

When asked in Senate Estimates yesterday about the potential market risks if these techniques are deregulated, Daryl Quinlivan, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, said it was an issue “producers and exporters will have to sort out”.[1]

Ms Sales said “under the Federal Government’s proposal anyone would be able to use these techniques with no regulatory oversight. That means no requirement for traceability and no way to ensure that products are GM-free.”

“Powerful, clear scientific evidence shows the potential risks that these new GM techniques pose. It’s vital that organisms produced using these techniques are assessed for safety before being released into our environment and food chain.”

“Experiments using these techniques have resulted in animals having very low live-birth rates; abnormal sizes – rendering them incapable of natural movement; respiratory and cardiac problems; and extra spinal vertebra.”

“In shocking contrast to overseas regulators, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have both recommended that a number of these new GM techniques be deregulated. To add insult to injury, they have relied on advice from scientists from institutions with clear commercial conflicts of interest, and partnerships with Monsanto in making their recommendations.”

“These techniques are quite clearly genetic engineering – the fact that our regulators are even considering not regulating them demonstrates how captured they have become by industry interests.”

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

[1] Senate Estimates Hearing: Rural & Regional Affairs & Transport [Part 1], Tuesday, February 19 2019, 10:10, http://parlview.aph.gov.au/mediaPlayer.php?videoID=438451&operation_mode=parlview