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Concerns about gene technology deregulation

Gene technology fact sheet IHER Gene Paper

The issue

Pig toxology study
Read the long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a genetically modified diet

The Gene Technology Act 2000 currently requires all scientific and commercial activities using genetic modification processes and living products to be notified to the Office of Gene Technology Regulator for assessment and licensing.

But the Government’s changes to the Gene Technology Regulations will exclude a class of methods known as SDN1 from any notification or scrutiny at all. The regulations will become law, unless the Senate disallows them, and Australia will become one of the first countries in the world to deregulate the use of these new genetic modification techniques.

The Greens have introduced a disallowance motion in the Senate for debate on 13 November 2019.

How does this affect the organic industry?

Under the new regulations, nearly three decades of work by thousands of farmers is under threat because many GMOs (as defined by our export markets) will no longer be registered, regulated or labelled in Australia, hampering traceability and making organic status almost impossible to verify in Australia.

Australian organic exports rely on our produce meeting the organic standards as set by the importing countries. In China, Europe and other markets, SDN1 and CRISPR–CAS9 technology does not comply with those standards. With the Government’s deregulation, Australian organic product may no longer be certified as organic in those and other premium export markets. We consider that the Government has not adequately considered the trade implications for organic products.

Some of our most important export markets could be closed to Australian organic exporters.

What could be the impact?

To comprehend the impact of the proposed changes on the organic industry, consider:

  • the global organic market is worth US$97 billion in 2017
  • the Australian organic industry is worth A$2.6 billion
  • of that value, 26% is organic export
  • therefore, the current cost to Australia of loss of premium organic markets is as much as A$680 million

 

However, the longer term opportunity cost is potentially higher, with the organic industry and its exports still growing at a rapid rate.

Also needing to be measured are the undue financial and compliance costs that could be imposed on the Australian organic industry in order to avoid complete export market collapse; costs that our competitors will not have to worry about.

What do we want?

We would like to see:

  1. a Senate inquiry into the impacts of the new regulations, including detailed analysis along the lines above and into the creation of a compensation fund for loss of export income
  2. a proper risk assessment and cost benefit-analysis of the deregulation
  3. proper consideration given to the implications for Australian consumers of organic products
  4. no deregulation of new GMOs until they are accepted by all premium agricultural export markets
  5. keeping and strengthening the Gene Technology Act 2000, the cornerstone of Australia's evidence-based regulatory system for GM animals, plants and microbes

What to do?

The Senate will consider on 17 September a motion to disallow the Government's deregulation instrument.

The Labor Party will meet on Tuesday morning (10 September) to determine its position on the disallowance motion.

Its imperative that the ALP and the cross-bench in the Senate combine to disallow this deregulation until:

  • the trade implications have been fully considered by a Senate inquiry
  • proper consideration is given to the implications for Australian consumers of organic products
  • a proper risk assessment and cost benefit-analysis of the deregulation is undertaken

You can make a difference

More information

If you would like more information about the implications of this gene technology, the attached paper by Dr Judy Carman is a good primer. IHER Gene Paper

Dr John Paull (University of Tasmania) presented on this issue to a Parliamentary forum on 30 July. Paull GMO Paper

Learn about the long-term toxicology effects on pigs fed a combined genetically modified soy and maize diet. Paull GMO Paper

Learn about the safety of GMOs and genetic editing and why it should be regulated. This YouTube presentation features Dr Judy Carman, Australia's top independent GMO scientist, speaking at the Healthy Soils Incorporated GMO Debate August 2018, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia.