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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2546

(Question No. 1413)

Senator Jones asked the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, upon notice, on 31 May 1994:

  With reference to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) endorsing as safe the marketing of a genetically altered species of tomato, and given that this is reported to be the first genetically altered food approved by the FDA for sale to consumers in America:

  (1) What stage has Australian industry reached towards the sale to the public of genetically engineered food.

  (2) Does the Government consider that present guidelines are adequate to control the rapid technological advancements being made in this industry.

Senator Cook —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) No genetically engineered foods have yet been approved for sale to the public in Australia. Proposals to perform genetic manipulation work in Australia require assessment by the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee (GMAC) in accordance with the GMAC guidelines. Proposals to grow genetically engineered food crops outside of containment facilities fall under the GMAC Guidelines for the Planned Release of Genetically Manipulated Organisms. GMAC has assessed several such proposals, but none of these has progressed beyond the stage of small-scale field trials. The crops covered by these proposals are:

  potato, modified for resistance to potato leaf roll virus;

  tomato, modified for better flavour and delayed deterioration (similar to the tomatoes approved for sale in the United States);

  potato, modified for increased yield;

  sugarcane, modified to carry `marker' genes;

  apple, modified to carry a `marker' gene.

  (2) Yes. Currently the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee (GMAC) is responsible for overseeing genetic manipulation work in Australia, so that any biosafety risk factors associated with the technology are identified and can be managed. In its response to the report of the Parliamentary inquiry into genetically modified organisms in October 1992, the Government noted that GMAC's Guidelines had been effective and should be given legal force through the establishment of a new statutory authority.

  Responsibility for the health and safety aspects of foods lies with the National Food Authority (NFA). The NFA will assess foods produced using gene technology in terms of the property of the food itself and not on the process used in its production.

  In June 1993, the NFA prepared a proposal (Proposal 97) to amend the Food Standards Code to regulate foods produced using gene technology. The objectives of this proposal were to ensure that all new products of gene technology intended for use as food or food components would be referred to the NFA, on a case by case basis, to enable an assessment of their safety for human consumption. The proposal is currently undergoing a full assessment.