Food regulator FSANZ is deliberating over whether a range of new plant breeding techniques will be classified as GM
The products of many new plant breeding techniques are GMOs and should be labelled as such.
Several new reports have been published on the subject ahead of the European Commission’s upcoming decision on how to classify the new techniques.
Below is an article about a similar decision that’s approaching in Australia.
Sadly the Australian food regulator FSANZ has taken advice on the topic from Prof Peter Langridge. Langridge is also quoted in the article below as an authority for claims about GM food safety and about the supposed accuracy of gene editing. The article cites his public affiliation at the University of Adelaide, but omits the fact that his research centre has received “significant funding from global GM product developer DuPont, amounting to between A$3 million (NZ$3.66 million) and A$5 million a year”.
Genetic modification debate intensifies as landmark Australian decision on "genetically-edited" food looms
ABC, 17 Dec 2015
Australia's food regulator, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) is on the brink of a landmark decision that could change the future of what we eat.
FSANZ is deliberating over whether a range of new plant breeding techniques will be classified as genetic modification (GM).
The group of techniques — known as gene-editing — has been classified in New Zealand as genetic modification.
If not classified in Australia as GM, consumers will not know if they are eating plants altered using these techniques.
FSANZ chief scientist Dr Marion Healey said a final decision had not been made.
"There's quite an international discussion happening around those techniques so it's a bit fluid at the moment," he said.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth is calling for all of the techniques to be subject to more scrutiny, saying they were still hotly contested amongst scientists.
"If these techniques aren't regulated they are going to be making their way into the food chain unlabelled, and that's going to reduce choices for farmers and consumers," Louise Sales from Friends of the Earth said.
The emerging technology has been referred to as "New Plant Breeding Techniques".
University of Adelaide Professor Peter Langridge chaired a scientific panel that advised FSANZ on the new techniques.
"Probably the technology that's got most people excited is one called genome editing — ways you can go in and make quite targeted changes to the genetic makeup of an organism by either deleting a gene or modifying a gene in a quite targeted manner," he said.
"A lot are related to accelerating the rate of breeding, for example in fruit trees and apples you can get an apple seedling to flower in six months rather than five years.
Professor Langridge said the panel had advised FSANZ some of the techniques should be de-regulated, but others should be classified as GM.
"There's always a need to keep a close eye on any new food product that's generated," he said.
This year American authorities approved a genetically modified salmon for sale, which became known as the "Frankenfish".
Demystifying GM in Australia
* Australia has not approved GM animals, although meat, dairy and eggs derived from animals fed GM crops do not require labelling
* GM canola and cotton are commercially grown in Australia
* No fresh fruit or vegetables are grown although GM strains are being trialled
* Australian labelling laws require food that contains GM protein or 'novel DNA' to be clearly labelled
* If GM ingredients are refined to the point where they no longer contain GM protein, they do not have to be labelled
Anti-GM campaigners argue some claims have been misleading.
"You can have canola oil that's come from 100 per cent GM canola, [and] that product will not require labelling," Frances Murrell from the group "Mothers Are Demystifying Genetic Engineering" (MADGE) said.
"I think most people would be pretty shocked if they knew that."
In 2010, an Australian Food and Grocery Council submission on food labelling laws argued against changes to labelling laws, saying "most food products currently would attract a label" if any GM presence required labelling.
Many processed foods contain imported ingredients derived from GM crops including soy, corn, canola and cottonseed.
"It could be oil in dips, bread might have a bit of soy flour in it, corn chips, pasta sauce, sweets, it might be soy lecithin in chocolate," Ms Murrell said.
Is genetically modified food safe?
The Australian food regulator FSANZ says yes.
"There's overwhelming evidence collected over the past 15 years or so that tells us GM food is safe," Dr Healy said.
But Dr Healy said there had been no "post-market" studies on the health impact on humans and no long-term health study.
"In terms of a clinical study, no, and it would be very difficult to do," she said.
FSANZ decides whether a GM product is safe for the public on the basis of raw data and research supplied by the biotech companies seeking to sell the product.
"We don't independently test in a laboratory, what we do is have people who have the appropriate skills to evaluate the data," Dr Healy said.
She said FSANZ had never refused an application for a GM product, and has approved about 60.
But there have been a number of studies around the world that have found adverse affects in animals fed GM products.
Consumer concerns largely based on "emotions not science".
In Europe this year, 19 countries including Scotland and Germany have taken steps to ban GM crops.
European labelling laws require food containing more than 0.9 per cent of GM to be clearly labelled.
Melbourne mother of two daughters Katie Falkiner said she avoided GM food as much as possible.
"It is difficult because the labelling is so poor," she said.
"I actually find I have to put in more time.
"I don't think it's hit the radars of many Australians."
Tova Brite also does not want her two young sons eating GM ingredients, processed or otherwise.
"I used to be one of those people, who thought if it's on the shelf then it must be all right," she said.
"I started looking at preservatives, additives and then I stumbled on GM food and started researching that and it made me feel very, very uncomfortable feeding that to my family."
Professor Langridge said consumer concerns should be addressed, but they were largely based on emotions not science.
"I think it's more likely I will get hit by a meteorite walking out of this building than suffering damage from eating a GM food product," he said.