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Australia decided: Crispr instead of organic

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Australian flag
Australian flag / symbol picture © Shutterstock/Aphelleon

The Australian parliament has sanctioned the government’s decision to exclude new genetic engineering processes from genetic engineering law.

“No other country is deregulating CRISPR GMO technology to the extent that Australia is”, comments Glenn Schaube, chairman of the Australian organic association NASAA. He fears drastic consequences for Australia’s organic farmers.

Schaube says that “Australia’s agriculture and food sector will in a short space of time be unable to reassure people that the food being produced in Australia is GM free and meets the Australian National Organic and Biodynamic Standard”. This would also have a massive impact on exports of GMO-free or organic food. This is “a disaster for Australia’s organic industry”, Schaube complained, saying that the organic industry is made “the sacrificial lamb to the deregulation of GMO technologies”.

So far, Australian genetic engineering law has stipulated that all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) require approval. In April 2019, the Australian government presented an amendment to the Gene Technology Regulations Act. According to this amendment, certain procedures, such as targeted gene deactivation, can be applied without any authorization. Organisms produced using new genetic engineering methods such as CRISPR/cas also do not require authorization, provided that no foreign genetic material was incorporated in the process.

European scientific association supported their Australian colleagues

Environmental and organic associations tried to put a stop to this legislative change by submitting a petition to Parliament. They argued that no country in the world has yet legislated such a broad exception to the genetic engineering law. In view of the risks associated with new genetic engineering techniques, the organisations appealed to parliamentarians to comply with the precautionary principle. Without sufficient regulations, these organisms could enter the food chain without any safety assessment, without clarifying possible allergic, toxic or carcinogenic effects, warned Judy Carman, Director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research. The European scientific association ENSSER supported their Australian colleagues and also appealed to Australian parliamentarians to stop the law. There is neither a guarantee that the use of the new techniques will produce the desired results nor that it will be safe, the ENSSER letter says.

The appeals had no effect: The Green Party was alone in the parliamentary vote; the governing coalition and the oppositional Labour Party confirmed the government’s decision. Slowfood Australia pointed out that the Coalition and Labour had received donations from Bayer and the CropLife lobby.

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