FSANZ deregulates GMOs by stealth

Louise Sales

You'd be forgiven for missing it, but in a quiet announcement at the start of the year our food regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) watered down already weak safety assessment requirements for several new genetic modification (GM) techniques. Despite – or perhaps because of – the strong public opposition to GM crops, FSANZ made these changes without any public consultation.1 It also appears that the agency has misled Parliament and the public on the issue, claiming that no decision regarding these new techniques has been made.

To make matters worse, FSANZ seems to have made the changes based solely on advice given by an 'expert panel' stacked with GM crop scientists with vested interests in the techniques.2

The techniques include cisgenesis, intragenesis and grafting onto GM rootstock. The expert panel FSANZ commissioned to look at these techniques was chaired by Professor Peter Langridge, who was then Director and CEO of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics which has numerous GM patents and financial relationships with GM crop companies.2

Documents obtained by Friends of the Earth under Freedom of Information laws also suggest that FSANZ does not consider foods produced using a number of other new GM techniques3 to be GM under the Food Standards Code.4

Austrian government agencies are among the few globally to consider the biosafety risks posed by these new GM techniques. Contrary to FSANZ's expert panel, they have argued that products derived from these techniques pose the same risks as those created using older GM techniques and should be regulated in the same way.5

Friends of the Earth is concerned that these products could make their way regulated and unlabeled into our food chain, posing unknown risks – and removing choice for farmers, food producers and consumers.

It's time FSANZ stopped letting industry write the rules and put public health before private profit.

Take action!

Please contact Fiona Nash and tell her you ask her to ensure that:

  • These new GM techniques and the products derived from them are subject to a comprehensive case-by-case risk assessment, including full molecular characterisation and independent safety testing to minimise any potential risks to human health and the environment;
  • All products derived from new GM techniques are labelled to protect choice for farmers, food producers and consumers;
  • A moratorium on the commercialisation of these new GM techniques is introduced until our regulatory system for GMOs is adapted to deal with the potential risks posed by them.

Contact her at:

Freecall: 1300 734 681

Email: Minister.Nash@health.gov.au

Twitter: @SenatorNash

Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Fiona-Nash/86298154631

References:

1. FSANZ (2016) Application Handbook, 1 March 2016, www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/changes/Documents/Application%20Handbook%2...

2. Friends of the Earth (2015) GM 2.0: Australian Regulators Engineering the Truth, pp. 9-10, http://emergingtech.archive.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/FOE-GM...

3. Oligi-directed mutagenesis (ODM), zinc-finger nuclease technology types 1 and 2 and seed production technology.

4. Final Minute to the Minister on the release of the Workshop reports, July 2013, available at: http://emergingtech.archive.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Docume...

5. Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) (2012) Cisgenesis. A report on the practical consequences of the application of novel techniques in plant breeding. Report for the Austrian Federal Ministry of Health; Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) (2013) New plant breeding techniques. RNA-dependent methylation, Reverse breeding, Grafting. Report for the Austrian Federal Ministry of Health; Eckerstorfer, M., Miklau, M. & Gaugitsch, H. (2014) New plant breeding techniques: risks associated with their application, Austrian Environment Agency, www.ekah.admin.ch/fileadmin/ekah-dateien/New_Plant_Breeding_Techniques_U...