Page 858 - Week 03 - Thursday, 30 March 2006

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Genetically modified food crops

DR FOSKEY: My question is to the Minister for Health and is in regard to the current moratorium on the commercial release of genetically modified food crops. The minister and the ACT government would be aware that ending the moratorium will not encourage more GE research in the ACT in itself as laboratory experiments and field trials licensed by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator are already exempt from the moratorium. Minister, given that surrounding states in our region have GE crop moratoria until 2008, is the ACT government committed to retaining the current moratorium on commercial genetic engineering crops in the ACT at least until this time?

MR CORBELL: The answer to Dr Foskey’s question is yes. There are no plans to change the existing arrangements at this time.

DR FOSKEY: Given that, what actions will the minister take to reassure the biotech industry that the moratorium does not limit their capacity to do research and development in the ACT?

MR CORBELL: I thank Dr Foskey for the question. The government and I, as the minister, have been quite clear on what this moratorium means. The moratorium is a moratorium on the release of commercial GM products.

Clearly the ACT does not have any significant food and agriculture industry within its borders. Therefore, our GM crop moratorium is essentially, in some respects, symbolic. In one regard, it ensures that existing moratoria that are in place in New South Wales cannot be circumvented by using the ACT as a loophole. For example, the moratorium on the release of certain GM technology products in New South Wales could not be circumvented by having such a crop experiment and used on a commercial basis here in the ACT.

For me and the government, the reason why the moratoria should remain in place is to ensure consistency and to ensure the adequacy of the moratoria that are already in place in New South Wales. I have made that clear to anyone who has raised this issue with me. The moratorium does not in any way impact on research activity because the moratorium is not on research activity, only on the commercial release of GM modified products into the commercial market.

In putting together the legislation, the government consulted widely with stakeholders, including organisations such as the CSIRO who conduct extensive research into gene technology and genetic modification of food crops. We did not, at that stage, encounter any concerns raised by the CSIRO or other organisations because of the moratorium proposal. It has not had any impact on their research activity here in the ACT.

I can understand that there may be some philosophical objection to a moratorium on commercial release per se, whether it is here in the ACT or in surrounding New South Wales or other parts of the country. Most states in Australia have moratoria in place on the release of genetically modified organisms for commercial food-cropping purposes. That said, that does not, in the government’s view, in any way undermine the capacity of research organisations to do their research here in the ACT.

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