In 1999 Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) introduced Standard 1.5.2 to regulate genetically modified food - including labelling requirements.
At the time, and to date, all genetically modified foods (GM) approved in Australia and New Zealand have been manipulated through the process ‘trans-genesis’ whereby plants have been modified by the insertion of new DNA.
However there are now new forms of gene technology being considered in the production of food: the new breeding techniques or (NBTs). These are proposed to be used in both plant and animal products.
The food regulator has said, “A degree of uncertainty exists about whether the food produced using NBTs are “food produced using gene technology”, because some of the new techniques can be used to make definite changes to the genome of an organism without permanently introducing any new DNA.”
“There has been ongoing scientific and public debate about these foods produced through NBTs, including what risks they might pose and whether premarket assessment and approval is appropriate for such foods.”
FSANZ’s CEO, Mark Booth, has released a consultation paper asking for the public’s views on the new breeding techniques and how laws for food derived from them should apply. For example whether they require pre-assessment for safety before they could be used as ingredients in food and/or sold as such.
The issues the public is being asked to consider are:-
- Food products where new pieces of DNA are inserted into the genome and remain in the organism from which food is obtained
- Where gene technology does not alter the genome, for example where DNA is inserted into the initial organism, but is not present in the final one from which food is obtained
- Where changes are made to the existing genome, but there is no new DNA present in the organism from which the food is obtained. In other words it may have been lost or destroyed during processing of the food.
Office of the Gene Technology’s Regulator, Raj Bhula, has also recently signalled a possible reduction of regulations around certain gene editing techniques - as a result of which some would not be classed as “genetic modification”. Considering that the public are still quite distrustful of genetic modification in their food, this has created some concern. Mr. Bhula contends that, where a process is just manipulation within the organism and not introducing anything foreign (DNA), it could be viewed (and presumably regulated) differently.
At the moment the recommendations of the OGTR are open for consultation but before any changes could be made they would need to be approved by Commonwealth, State and Federal governments before becoming law.