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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 4 Hansard (8 April) . . Page.. 1086..


Bill agreed to.

Gene Technology Amendment Bill 2007

Debate resumed from 6 December 2007, on motion by Ms Gallagher:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MRS BURKE (Molonglo) (12.21): We are presently at a crossroads as to how we deal with gene technology and what are known as genetically modified organisms. Genetic material may be altered, with methods that do not occur naturally, through genetic engineering. In this way, selected individual genes are transferred from one organism to another, even between non-related species.

Using genetically modified organisms offers both opportunities and risks. While biotechnology has revolutionised the treatment of once-lethal bacterial infections over the past 60 years through developing antibiotics such as penicillin, isolated from common bread mould, the real battleground will be in the use of gene technology in the production of food. Gene technology makes small but significant changes to a species' genetic blueprint, usually to one or two out of the 30,000 to 50,000 genes a plant or animal possesses.

On the positive side, the proponents of gene technology say that it is providing new ways of preventing, treating and curing human and animal diseases, helping farmers to improve agricultural production with less impact on the environment and will soon enable food products to be available to consumers at reduced cost.

It has already given us new products such as human insulin for diabetes, interferon and other drugs for treating some cancers and vaccines against diseases like hepatitis B. The CSIRO believes that there is a great future for gene technology in Australia to improve our health and create a safer and more secure food supply. For example, researchers are working on identifying the blood lines of high-performing prawns to enable farmers to produce their own elite brood stock of superior prawns in Australia's developing $50 million a year prawn farming industry. Cotton farmers in Australia have been able to reduce their use of synthetic pesticides by 50 per cent where the GM cotton is used, and a new variety of GM cotton has shown a 75 per cent pesticide reduction in its trials.

However, there are also large risks, as acknowledged by the CSIRO. Some laboratory studies in Europe and the US have shown that a toxin produced in transgenic crops by the insect-resistant Bt gene has the potential to affect at least two insect species apart from the pest it was supposed to target. Larvae of the ladybird beetle, which attack leaf-chewing and sap-sucking insect pests, can be killed by their eating caterpillars that have ingested a lethal dose of the toxin.

There is some evidence that crops modified for herbicide tolerance could crossbreed with nearby weeds of the same family. A study by the CRC for weed management found that pollen from herbicide-tolerant canola could travel up to 2.6 kilometres but


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