5. State Regulation of GM Crops

    24 June 2021

    Once a genetically modified (GM) crop has been assessed by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and a license issued for commercial release, there may still be state or territory legislated barriers to its cultivation and use.

    CropLife advocates for any state or territory still retaining a moratorium regarding GM crops to follow the scientific and economic evidence and grant their farmers the same opportunities as their interstate and international competitors.

    Cotton, canola, safflower and carnations are the GM crops currently approved for commercial cultivation in Australia.

    Australia has been growing GM cotton since 1996 along with blue carnations. Today, over 99 per cent of Australian-grown cotton is genetically modified. Its production has cut pesticide use by around 89 per cent compared to conventional cotton varieties.

    When the Gene Technology Regulator approved two GM canola traits for commercial release in 2003 governments in the canola-growing states imposed moratoria. The governments claimed they were concerned whether export markets would accept Australian GM canola, despite there being strong evidence that the same markets were purchasing Canadian GM canola.

    The first commercial GM safflower was approved by the Gene Technology Regulator in 2018. GM safflower has been genetically modified to increase the level of a particular oil, oleic acid, in their seeds. GM safflower oil was developed for use in the industrial oil markets as a replacement for petroleum-based precursors in the manufacture of plastics, lubricants or cosmetics.

    • NSW & Victoria: In 2008, two lines of GM canola were approved for cultivation in NSW and Victoria, marking the end of a four-year ban on GM crops following exemptions introduced for NSW and the expiry of the moratorium in Victoria. Independent reviews of the Victorian and NSW moratoria in 2007 found that earlier concerns about market access, economic impact and segregation had largely been overcome since bans on commercial cultivation of GM canola were first put in place. Access to these tools enables growers in NSW and Victoria to compete on a level footing with other producers in global markets.
      While NSW has had exemptions in place to grow GM cotton and canola, the NSW Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Act 2003 expired 1 July 2021, following the government’s decision not to continue the ban. This will allow NSW farmers the opportunity to access all current and future GM crops.
    • WA: Until 2016, WA was classified as a GM crop-free zone with two exemptions – one for GM cotton in the Ord River irrigation area and the other for GM canola. With the passing of the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Repeal Bill 2015, WA growers have access to new GM crops approved by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. This gives certainty to WA farmers and investors and provides access to new opportunities and tools for producers to remain competitive.
    • South Australia: South Australia’s moratorium on GM food crops was lifted in 2020 for mainland South Australia. A moratorium remains in place for Kangaroo Island due to a specific trade opportunity for wheat growers in that location. Removing the GM moratorium for mainland SA provides opportunities for more than farmers and agronomists. Researchers and breeders will be incentivised to trial these GM crops under local conditions.
    • Tasmania: Tasmania is the only Australian state that remains with a GM crop moratorium. Several independent and government commissioned reports show that Tasmania has not gained a marketing advantage from a GM-free status, while their farmers have missed out on environmental, financial and productivity benefits gained by Australian farmers with access to crop biotechnology over the past 25 years.
    • Queensland: Queensland has never had a moratorium on GM crops. Approval for commercial release of a GM product by the OGTR means Queensland farmers can benefit from the innovation.
    • Northern Territory: There is no GM crop moratorium in place in the Northern Territory. There is also no current commercial cultivation of GM crops in the NT because they do not grow the crops approved by the OGTR. This is likely to change in the future when more GM crops come to market.
    • Australian Capital Territory: There is a GM crop moratorium on commercial cultivation of all GM crops in the ACT however there are exemptions permitted for trials under specific conditions. It is unlikely that the ACT will ever grow commercial cultivation scale crops.

    To maintain product integrity, CropLife members support farmers who use GM crops with training and accreditation courses. This includes advocating good on-farm management to ensure sustainability of the technology and following Crop Management Plans to ensure the segregation and co-existence of GM and non-GM crops if required.