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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7109


Senator HARRADINE (10:55 AM) —Chair, can I go instead to one of the postponed amendments. I indicated when I rose before that this may be the way to proceed to ensure that those amendments which relate to clause 12 are moved. I would like to move amendment (5) on sheet 2751 revised. The proposal relates to labelling.


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Jacinta Collins)—For the benefit of the committee, this is the first amendment on page 8 of the running sheet. Senator Harradine, do you wish to now deal with your amendment (5), which you deferred earlier in the debate?


Senator HARRADINE —Yes.


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Is it the wish of the committee to proceed this way? There being no objection, we will move to Senator Harradine's amendment (5) on sheet 2751 revised.


Senator HARRADINE —Thank you. I move amendment (5) on sheet 2751 revised:

(5) Page 11 (after line 5), at the end of Division 2, add:

12D Offence—failure to label products developed from human embryos, human embryonic stem cells etc.

(1) A person commits an offence if the person uses:

(a) human embryos; or

(b) human embryonic stem cells;

in, or in the testing, creation or manufacture of, any pharmaceutical or cosmetic product and does not label the product in accordance with subsection (2).

Maximum penalty: $10,000 for a body corporate or $2,000 in other cases.

(2) Where a person uses human embryos or human embryonic stem cells in, or in the testing, creation or manufacture of, any pharmaceutical or cosmetic product, the product must be prominently labelled as having been tested on human embryos or human embryonic stem cells.

(3) The regulations may make further provisions for labelling in accordance with this section.

This amendment is to insert a new 12D, an offence of failure to label products developed from human embryos, human embryonic stem cells et cetera. That amendment has been circulated and I have written to honourable senators about it and provided certain background to it. The immediate background to it is a decision last night—a very close decision—by this committee to reject an amendment which was to ban the testing of drugs on human embryos and human embryonic stem cells. This amendment provides for the labelling of products which use human embryos or human embryonic stem cells in the testing, creation or manufacture of any pharmaceutical or cosmetic products. Citizens who conscientiously oppose destructive research on embryos should have the right to easily identify drug products created by this research. What is needed is a system of clear product identification. Customers are best placed to know what they morally object to. Whilst it is their responsibility to inform themselves as to whether they would be acting in what they would consider to be a morally complicit way by consuming a product, they need proper labelling to make that informed choice.

Individuals are certainly not in a position to know what has been involved in the production of drugs, and their capacity to find out is limited, particularly if manufacturers refused to disclose this information. The only way for individuals to protect themselves from inadvertently using a product with which they have an ethical problem is for manufacturers to disclose in a way that is accessible to all potential consumers what in fact was involved in its manufacture.

Many people consider some practices so deeply wrong that it would be devastating for them to consume products manufactured under such practices and to contribute to the financial benefit of the manufacturer as well as to the product's continued production. `Not tested on animals' is considered an important label on cosmetics by those who have ethical objections to animal experimentation. It is therefore appropriate that similar labelling appears on drugs. Products are labelled because of the consumer's right to know and the need to provide warnings about health risks, and for cultural, ethical and religious reasons.

Let us take the first point: the consumer's right to know. Consumers may simply want to know more about a product. They may wish to choose to purchase a product that complies with health, environmental, religious, ethical or political values. These values may be regulated or controlled in some way by government. The Trade Practices Act has provisions to deal with false and misleading advertising. Some consumers want to know the fat content of foods, and there is provision for this in Australian labelling regulations. Consumers with sensitivities to certain additives require that additives in products are listed on food labels. Those with environmental concerns may wish to know that a food has been produced organically. This is not regulated for at a national level as such, but the Commonwealth has been a party to accreditation discussions in order to facilitate trade with overseas countries, especially those in the EU. The development of logos for organic foods that comply with production specifications is another approach.

A well-known recent example is, of course, the labelling of GM foods. The health ministers made it clear that the decision to label GM foods was driven neither by concerns about health and environmental risks nor by concerns about damage to our food export trade. The ministers made the decision on consumer rights grounds. The media briefing paper stated:

This decision was taken so that consumers could be provided with the information necessary to make informed choices.

If they can do it for that, they can do it for this. In regard to the health risks, the obvious example is health warnings on cigarette packs. Regulatory passage for warnings about allergens on food labels demonstrates difficulties in achieving mandatory labelling for confirmed health risks. It is only relatively recently that Food Standards Australia New Zealand extended mandatory warning labels to a limited range of allergens. Lobby groups are still pressing for additional warning labels for MSG, for example, and a number of other additives which I will not go into. Food Standards Australia New Zealand's arguments against using warning labels for various substances in foods include that too much information on a label will confuse the consumer, that only a small percentage of people are affected by the issue and that there is not enough scientific evidence.

Cultural, ethical and religious concerns are additional issues. The Australian food standard governing GM food labelling specifies that additional GM labelling is required where food carries ethical, cultural or religious concerns. If pharmaceutical manufacturers are to be good corporate citizens, then they will need to be responsive to community members' interests in knowing what they are consuming, including what ethically contentious practices their consumption may make them morally complicit in.

This is a very important matter, and it is of great concern to quite a large number of people. I have just touched the surface. I have been asking questions around the place. If human embryos or human embryonic stem cells are used to test drugs—as permitted by this bill—or, indeed, are used in some way in the manufacture of drugs, then the consumer ought to know. Great concern is expressed by quite a number of people when this matter is raised. This matter was rarely raised during the debate, because people did not know about it. People did not know that this legislation enables human embryos and human embryonic stem cells to be used in drug-testing and drug-manufacturing processes.

Last night I quoted the chief executive officer of an embryonic stem cell scientific organisation. He said that he cannot wait to get his hands on the stem cells to develop these particular research programs. It is in the Hansard from last night, so I am not going through it again now. I ask honourable senators to consider that matter carefully. Having very narrowly lost the attempt last night to prevent drugs from being tested on human embryos and human embryonic stem cells, I now believe it is mandatory for this parliament to come clean and to require this information to be provided to persons utilising those drugs.