Page 1088 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 8 April 2008
Most recently in Victoria, a South Gippsland group of business associations, health professionals, scientists, farming and community groups have signed a letter opposing GM food. The letter called on the Labor Prime Minister to fulfil his election promise to guarantee GM products are safe. One hopes that this is not as flimsy a promise as his statement that he had a plan. His only plan, we know now, was to say that he had a plan and then call a summit of people to give him one.
The safety of GM foods is still being debated. Concerns have been raised by scientists, community groups and members of the public that new allergens could be inadvertently created by transfer from traditional foods into GM foods; antibiotic resistance may develop as bioengineers sometimes insert marker genes to help them identify whether a new gene has been introduced into the host DNA, and one such marker is resistance to particular antibiotics; crossbreeding between GM crops and surrounding vegetation; pesticide-resistant insects; biodiversity may be reduced; and cross-contamination between GM plants to produce pharmaceuticals and food crops.
There are also ethical concerns about the possible monopolisation of the world food market by large multinational companies that control the distribution of GM seeds. Using genes from animals in plant foods may pose ethical, philosophical or religious problems. Animal welfare could be adversely affected. For example, cows given more potent GM growth hormones could suffer health problems related to growth or metabolism. Finally, new GMOs could be patented so that life itself could become commercial property through patenting. The use of GMOs, particularly in our food production, then amounts to opening a Pandora’s box of potential harm. We must then tread very carefully.
The bill is aimed at bringing the ACT into line with nationally consistent guidelines for dealing with genetically modified organisms, GMOs. This means mirroring both commonwealth legislation and the Gene Technology Amendment 2001. The bill deals with how GMO crops and practices are licensed and how emergency situations and risks are dealt with. A more comprehensive licensing arrangement will be implemented, with the Gene Technology Regulator asked in all instances to prepare a comprehensive risk assessment advice, RAA, on applications for GMO licences. Offences relating to GMO practices, as well as compliance with licensing conditions, are also codified. The RAA will deal with such things as the actual GMO in question, containment issues and disposal of the GMO.
Given the ACT’s limited exposure to crops, the bill will mostly affect how academic institutions like the ANU, CSIRO and Canberra university deal with and undertake GMO related scientific research.
The Gene Technology Act 2000, which came into force on 21 June 2001, introduces a national scheme for the regulation of genetically modified organisms in Australia in order to protect the health and safety of Australians and the Australian environment by identifying risks posed by or as a result of gene technology, and to manage those risks by regulating certain dealings with genetically modified organisms.
Finally, this is one area in which we cannot be too cautious. We must protect our markets and be aware that the future of Australia as a source of clean, green food may