Australia’s gene technology regulator is proposing changes to its gene technology regulations that would allow products derived from genetically modified (GM) plants, animals and microbes untested and unlabelled into our food. The deadline for public comment on the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR)’s proposed changes is this Friday (16th December).

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. And they could enter our food chain and our environment with no safety testing and no labelling. The results could be catastrophic.”

“Even the way that some of these techniques work is still hotly contested among scientists. The idea of deregulating something we still don’t fully understand is frankly mind-boggling.”

Reviews commissioned by the Austrian and Norwegian governments concluded that there is insufficient knowledge regarding the risks posed by these new GM techniques and that products derived from them should require a comprehensive case-by-case risk assessment.

Last month the German junior environment minister also called for these techniques to be regulated as GMOs raising concerns that “without a strict approval process, plants with environmentally-dangerous properties could be allowed to spread.”

“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 which will rule in 18 months 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.

Recent documents obtained by Friends of the Earth under Freedom of Information laws reveal that the OGTR has also been consulting with industry for at least two years on whether to regulate these techniques urging them to ‘make the case’.

“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.