Australian Federal Government and the Opposition Sign Off on Uncontrolled Genetic Experiment

Slow Food in Australia is deeply disappointed that the Federal Government and the Labour party ignored calls from farmers, organic food producers and agricultural exporters to disallow amendments to the Gene Technology Regulations, submitting Australians to a nationwide genetic experiment. Both parties failed in the Senate to support the Greens’ motion disallowing amendments to the Gene Technology Regulations. The amendments allow most animals, plants and microbes modified using CRISPR and similar techniques to be released into the environment and food chain without any risk of assessment.

Amorelle Dempster, Australia and Oceania Councillor for Slow Food said, “The changes bring uncertainty to consumers who are outraged that they will not know if the food they buy and consume has been genetically modified. It also affects Australia’s image as a ‘clean’ agricultural produce exporter, putting to risk large and growing European and Chinese export markets, who do not accept food imports from GMO deregulated countries. Australian farmers who are already suffering from the effects of pro-longed drought and fires have not been consulted about the deregulation and the potential impacts on their export opportunities.”

Louise Sales from Friends of the Earth’s Emerging Tech Project said, “The changes effectively turn Australia – our ecosystems and our health – into a giant genetic engineering experiment.”

Last week the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) wrote to all Australian Senators urging them to support the disallowance motion. A number of Australian Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBCs) have also called for regulation on safety grounds. These include the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research IBC, Victoria University IBC, Children’s Medical Research Institute and Children’s Hospital Westmead IBC, and the University of Wollongong IBC.

“It seems the Federal Government and ‘Opposition’ have learnt nothing from the lessons of history. From Cane Toads to Phytophthora there are numerous examples of organisms wreaking ecological havoc because the risks associated with releasing them into the environment were not properly assessed. These risks are very real. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator has acknowledged that even small changes to the DNA of micro-organisms can make them much more virulent and dangerous.”

GMOs also pose serious potential environmental risks that need to be assessed on a case by case basis. These are well illustrated by the case of a strain of the soil bacteria Klebsiella planticola (SDF20). This was genetically engineered to convert dead plant matter into alcohol.[i] The US Environmental Protection Agency was envisioning that farmers could use these bacteria to convert plant material into a sludge, which could be poured off into the soil and reused. The agency was weeks away from approving the environmental release of the bacteria when independent scientists tested its effects when added to soil containing wheat plants. They found it caused significant increases in the numbers of bacteria and fungal feeding nematodes – coinciding with death of the plants.[ii] Had the bacteria been released into the environment, the global consequences could have been catastrophic.

“It’s appalling that the Federal Government and ‘opposition’ are gambling with our health and environment in this way, at the behest of their corporate sponsors,” concluded Ms Sales.

In the 2017-18 financial year, the GM crop company Bayer donated $40,600 to Labor and $42,540 to the Coalition. The GM crop and agrichemical industry lobby group CropLife donated $34,271 to Labor and $22,300 to the Coalition. CropLife’s CEO Matthew Cossey is also a former senior official and campaign director for the Labor Party.

[i] Krebs, A.V. (2001) Commentary: Searching for a fair resolution concerning controversial story on possible effects of Klebsiella p on the environment, The Agribusiness Examiner, 119, June 11, 2001
[ii] Holmes, M.T., E.R. Ingham, J.D. Doyle & C.W. Hendricks (1999) Effects of Klebsiella planticola SDF20 on soil biota and wheat growth in sandy soil. Applied Soil Ecology 11: 67-78.

To learn more, read Slow Food’s position paper on GMOs here.

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For more information please contact:

Slow Food Press Office – Paola Nano: internationalpress@slowfood.it

Australia media contact: Amorelle Dempster, Slow Food Councillor for Australia and Oceania iinfo@slowfoodaustralia.com.au 0427548886

Slow Food is a global network of local communities founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions and counteract the rise of fast food culture. Since its founding, Slow Food has grown into a global movement involving millions of people in over 160 countries, working to ensure that everyone has access to good, clean and fair food. Slow Food is the umbrella organization responsible for guiding the entire movement.

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