GM crops and food safety

Australia has one of the world’s most robust, science-based regulatory regimes for the approval of biotech (GM) crops with up to four separate regulatory approvals needed before farmers can use the technology.

Scientists at the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) identify and manage risks to human health and safety and the environment of each new GM crop. Independent assessments may also be conducted by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) on a case-by-case basis depending on the genetically modified trait.

It takes an average of 13 years for a new GM crop to be developed and approved. During that time, any potential risks to human health and safety or the environment are identified and managed. All GM crops have been subjected to at least a decade of testing, re-testing and independent verification before they are approved for commercial use.

The OGTR has approved the commercial release of several varieties of  GM cotton, canola, carnations and a rose; and has issued licences for field trials of crops as diverse as sugarcane, barley, pineapple, white clover and grapevines. All GM foods intended for sale in Australia, whether grown here or not, are subject to a pre-market safety assessment by FSANZ. To date, more than 50 GM food ingredients have been approved.

To facilitate consumer choice, it is mandatory in Australia to label all food products that contain GM material. Food labelling standards are administered and enforced by FSANZ. End products that do not contain any genetically modified material, such as highly-refined oils, sugars and starches are exempt from the mandatory labelling regime.

GM crops are the most intensively studied food ingredients in  history of humanity. Governments and international regulatory bodies from around the world have consistently found GM crops to be at least as safe as their conventionally grown counterparts. Research from 130 projects involving 500 independent research groups over 25 years has concluded:

“There is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”