Growing GM crops in Australia
Regulation of GM food crops in Australia
The Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000 and the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 and corresponding state and territory laws provide a nationally consistent system to regulate the development and use of gene technology in Australia.
Products of GM organisms such as foods or medicine are regulated under a product specific scheme. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) must approve any foods made from GM organisms before they can be sold in Australia and sets the food labelling requirements for these foods.
The Office of the Gene Technical Regulator (OGTR) licences GM food crops from experimental to commercial release stages and FSANZ approves the sale of the food that is produced from that GM food crop e.g. canola oil.
GM food crops grown in Australia
In Australia, commercial food crop approvals exist for GM varieties of canola, cotton and safflower. GM canola grown in Australia is resistant to certain types of herbicide, or has been modified for higher omega-3 oil content. GM cotton has been modified to be resistant to certain types of cotton pests. GM safflower has been modified for high oleic acid composition, with the oil intended for the industrial oil market rather than human food.
GM food crops grown outside of Australia
In other countries, several other GM crops with a wide range of new properties are being grown. For example, 10 GM crops have been approved for cultivation and sale in the United States – squash, cotton, soybean, corn, papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, potato and apples.
Approval and labelling requirements for GM foods
Information on the labelling requirements for GM foods in Australia can be found on the FSANZ website.
Segregation of GM and non-GM crops
Prior to the approval of GM crop production in the eastern states, segregation and identity preservation protocols and codes of practice were established to ensure that GM and non-GM crops can coexist.
Single Vision Grains Australia set up a quality assurance process along the entire supply chain including sampling and testing when needed, to verify that the integrity of the processes from planting to sale meets customer specifications and government regulations.
The principles and processes have been adopted by the Australian Oilseeds Federation, which maintains and oversees the delivery of market requirements for domestic and export trade.
The biggest handler of GM grain, Western Australia’s Co-operative Bulk Handling Group, has segregated GM and non-GM canola to internationally acceptable levels, with no contamination issues since the GM crop’s introduction in in 2010.
More information on on-farm segregation practices of GM Canola in Western Australia is available on the Primary Industries and Regional Development website.
Legal protections for non-GM crop farmers
Section 27 of the Act provides protections for non-GM farmers from liability in the event that GM material is found on their land.
In late 2017, a standing committee of the Western Australian Parliament commenced an inquiry into Mechanisms for compensation for economic loss to farmers in Western Australia caused by contamination by genetically modified material. The committee found there is insufficient evidence to justify a departure from the common law mechanism for compensation in Western Australia. The final report is available on the Western Australian Parliamentary website.
Controls for farmers growing GM food crops
All growers of GM crops must sign a Licence and Stewardship Agreement with the technology provider to gain access to the technology.
The agreements protect both the seed supplier and the grain farmer, ensuring proper sustainable use of the technology.
Growers who enter into these agreements make a commitment to comply with a series of conditions relating to the handling of the GM material.