A Victoria based company – Total Livestock Genetics – has bred dairy cows from ‘gene edited’ bulls whose genomes have since been found to unintentionally contain bacterial DNA. Furthermore, our food regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has proposed regulatory changes that mean milk from these cows could enter our supermarkets with no safety assessment or labelling.

Louise Sales, Emerging Tech Project Coordinator with Friends of the Earth said, “whilst US and European regulators will be strictly regulating the use of these techniques in animals, in Australia the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) is allowing a number of these techniques to be used in animals with no regulation at all. And our food regulator FSANZ is proposing allowing products from GM animals onto our supermarket shelves with no safety testing our labelling (1).”

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has argued that the discovery of bacterial DNA in gene edited cattle illustrates why these techniques need to be regulated. The agency has warned that unexpected genetic changes could “affect the safety of food derived from the animal.” According to FDA scientist Steven Solomon:

“Consumers expect the FDA to ensure their food is safe and our international trading partners expect that the FDA will have completed a scientific evaluation that determines that exported products are safe.”

Ms Sales said “European countries will also be regulating these new GM techniques and their products. Surely, we deserve the same protection in Australia?”

“Genetically modifying animals also poses serious ethical and animal welfare concerns. Gene editing is less precise than claimed and results in many unexpected and unpredictable genetic mutations in mammals. Gene editing techniques can inadvertently cause very low live-birth rates; abnormal sizes – rendering animals incapable of natural movement; and respiratory and cardiac problems.”

“Most Australians are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of genetically modifying animals for food and it is outrageous that FSANZ plans to allow products from GM animals into our supermarkets with no labelling or safety testing. Such a move would completely undermine the agency’s primary objectives of protecting public health and providing adequate information to consumers.”

Read Friends of the Earth’s briefing on the GM cows

1) FSANZ: FOI document 24: Decision Tree, available at: http://emergingtech.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Document-24_Decision-Tree.pdf