Submission to the Gene Technology Act 2000 Review from the Minister for Primary Industries and Water

Submission to the Gene Technology Act 2000 Review from the Minister for Primary Industries and Water

Page last updated: 28 October 2011

Minister for Primary Industries and Water

Level 10, Executive Building
15 Murray St
Hobart Tas 7000
Ph: 03 6233 6454 Fax: 03 6233 2272

GTMC Secretariat
Department of Health and Ageing

To whom it may concern

I write on behalf of the Tasmanian Government to the 2011 Review of the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000 (the Act). Tasmania remains committed to the national scheme for gene technology regulation to the extent that it does not impact upon our ongoing ability to pursue a GMO-free path for marketing purposes. Our small island nature, good biosecurity system and considerable capability in primary production continue to make this a prudent choice. Our policy supports Tasmanian businesses that have long-established GMO-free markets and in recent years, as some mainland jurisdictions have adopted more permissive positions on GM crops, certain seed companies have shifted their breeding operations to Tasmania, further validating this stance.

In addition, the Tasmanian Government believes that protecting human health and safety, and the environment from potential adverse effects of gene technology remains entirely appropriate, particularly as the variety and number of species subject to different types of genetic modification increases. I wish to acknowledge the efforts of the national Office of the Gene Technology Regulatory (OGTR) for its role in this regard, and the ready assistance provided by the national Regulator and his staff to various enquiries made by officers from my Department.

While I have no pressing points to make about regulatory burden, consultation provisions or powers in the Act, I would like to draw attention to a weakness in the way the scheme operates in regard to seed and grain imported to Australia, which suggests that the interface between the Act and Australia’s biosecurity system is flawed and that as a result the object of the Act is not being achieved to a reasonable level of rigour. At the same time, this weakness has potential to affect Tasmania’s ability to maintain freedom from GMOs, which naturally amplifies my concern.

I understand it is an offence under the Act to import into Australia genetically modified (GM) seed or grain that is not approved by the national Regulator. Importers who know their imported seed is GM or mixed with GM seed must declare it as such on the relevant Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) importation form, and if one has been granted by the Regulator, note the relevant licence number. If the GM seed is not approved, the importer must apply to the Regulator prior to import.

However, if an importer believes the seed is not GM, he or she can state that on the AQIS form but is not specifically required to prove GMO status by, for example, a DNA test certificate. Further, I understand AQIS has no particular protocol for sampling and testing that would help verify importer claims that imported seed is not GM.

The OGTR manages this situation through monitoring trends in overseas GM crop approvals, conducting broad risk analyses and promoting supply chain integrity and other self-regulatory mechanisms to local industry. While this approach may have been sufficient at a time when GM seed was less available compared with non-GM seed, it is unlikely to be sustainable into the near future, given apparently rising levels of technology uptake amongst Australia’s trading partners.

Clearly, as well as having implications for safeguarding Australians and the environment from potential adverse impacts of gene technology, lack of verification of GM status at the national barrier also places jurisdictions that perceive value in GMO-freedom in a difficult position. In Tasmania’s case and while our GMO moratorium legislation prohibits all GMO imports, enforcement can be difficult due to absence of DNA test certification for overseas seed imports, combined with complicated seed distribution networks which make it hard to discern where seed originates from and who holds the original import documents.

My Department would be happy to discuss this matter further with the OGTR and AQIS, with a view to presenting potential solutions to GTMC. Rod Andrewartha, Acting General Manager, Biosecurity and Product Integrity Division, can be contacted in the first instance on (03) 6233 2581 or

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the review. I look forward to reading the review report.

Yours sincerely

Bryan Green MP

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