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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling—Genetically Modified Material) Bill 2010

ACTING CHAIR —Welcome. I know that you have information about the protection of witnesses and evidence, because I think it is your copy that we stole. We have your submission, which is No. 8. I would invite one of you or several of you to make an opening statement, and then we will ask you some questions.

Mr Cossey —I will be making the opening statement on behalf of CropLife. By way of background—and for the record—CropLife Australia is the peak industry organisation representing the agricultural, chemical and biotechnology sector in Australia, otherwise referred to as the Plant Science Industry. CropLife represents the innovators, developers, manufacturers, formulators and registrants of crop protection and agro-biotechnology products. The Plant Science Industry provides products and services that are key to the nation’s agricultural productivity, sustainability and food security. All of the commercially available genetically modified crop technology in Australia is provided by one of our member companies, as is the vast majority of crop protection products. Importantly, our member companies’ products are provided to farmers of all forms of agriculture, from organic to conventional to GM. Accordingly, CropLife works from the globally proven position that all these systems can and do successfully coexist.

It is important to start with a few remarks that I hope will give the committee an overview of the need for, and the safety of, GM crops. I will also speak to the principles that should underpin good public policy with regard to GM technology and how that relates to the truth in labelling bill. Through the use of modern farming methods, products and technologies, Australian farmers provide 93 per cent of Australia’s domestic food supply with only 40 per cent of Australia’s total agricultural production. The remaining 60 per cent of agricultural production is exported. These highly productive farm businesses have been made possible by the rapid and successful adoption of agricultural and plant science innovation over a century. Australia’s GM crop researchers are amongst the best in the world. Australian scientists have developed crops that have 20 per cent better yields than existing crops when water is scarce. They have also developed crops that can grow in soils where water has a saline level equivalent to sea water. These technologies could allow in future previously marginal lands to become productive farms.

GM crops are just another step along the same path of technological improvement that brought us the combine harvester and federation wheat varieties. Using these innovations has delivered safe and affordable food to the nation and the globe. GM crops are safe. This is agreed by the elite, leading, mainstream global scientific community. Despite this proven record of safety, every GM crop is then subjected to a further intense global regulatory scrutiny. None of the regulators globally has found safety issues associated with these approved crops. One threat to the potential success of this important agricultural innovation and technology is unnecessary regulation that brings equally unnecessary cost burden. CropLife believes that all regulation should be commensurate with the associated risk, cost and benefit to the community. Science has established there is no health or safety risk differential between approved GM and non-GM crops. However, already the current regulations in Australia impose a much greater level of regulatory burden on the industry, and this bill we believe would only further exacerbate the problem. In the case of food labelling, surely the core foundation to justify a mandatory requirement is on the basis of health and safety. Otherwise it should be better delivered through a consumer demand market driven response. There is no public health or safety basis that would deem it necessary to dictate that manufacturers must label GM content from approved GM crops. Accordingly, we believe that it should be left to the commercially driven response.

The current mandatory labelling regime we believe is unnecessary, but we understand how historically we have it. A further imposition, however, as proposed by this bill we believe would be excessive and not without consequence. The proposed due diligence requirements would discourage food manufacturers from providing any non-GM products. These requirements appear to be redundant with the Competition and Consumer Act provision that prevents companies from giving consumers false or misleading information, and the Corporation Act, which requires that directors are diligent in observing Australian laws. These two requirements already mean that companies have to be diligent in observing Australia’s food laws.

The existing exemptions recognise the realities of modern grain supply chains and farms. They are there to provide consumers with choice, not deny it. We do not believe that the bill should be passed by the parliament for three reasons: no health or safety basis for a mandatory requirement, consumer information requirements not related to health and safety are better and most cost-effectively responded to by a market response, and any and all food labelling changes should be done in a whole of industry and coordinated manner, and that process is under way through the Blewett report and corresponding government response, and then for consideration of bills by this parliament. Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR —Does anybody else want to make an opening statement? Could you please clarify what you mean by the second dot point, which is that it is best left up to the market? How do I know as a consumer whether I am buying a product that has GM in it unless it is properly labelled?

Mr Cossey —I would argue that if there is a critical mass of consumer interest in wanting food products that contain a GM crop basis, the market will seek to differentiate themselves and use it as an advertising component to deliver that labelling for you. I go to the point again—and it seems to be a tenor of a lot of what has gone before—that somehow we are working from a position that GM is not safe. Not only would I argue that comprehensively the global scientific community has proven that it is not only safe; it is actually proven positively to be safe. It might be an opportune time to point out that I noticed the previous witness referred to the peer studies that question that. I do not wish to verbal them without their being here, but even FSANZ in 2008 noted: ‘The small group of studies often cited as showing harmful effects due to GM foods have, without exception, been discredited by the weight of mainstream scientific evidence and opinion, including that of the UK Royal Society and regulatory agencies around the world.’

It is from that position that we argue, again, that if you are advocating a regulatory regime to provide labelling on a mandatory basis, surely the only basis of that is where there is a health and safety basis for that. Otherwise, the market will, as it does with all labelling, add it to their own commercial advantage by either arguing that it does not contain GM, or I would argue down the future you will see, because we know what the advantages of GM will prove, it may well be that they advocate that it absolutely does contain GM and makes it a better product accordingly. But without the basis of a health and safety concern we do not think that there can be justification for a mandatory requirement for it. Nor do we think it delivers a benefit. If there were imposition of mandatory requirements and they had no consequences, that somewhat diminishes our argument. But there are consequences to imposing mandatory requirements for GM components that, first, also start to deny the purposes that the bill is seeking to achieve and, secondly, can start having impact on the actual innovation that is going on in this area. The example of my first point is testing for GM—and I do not use the term ‘contamination’; it is inherently negative, but for products containing GM—is now so sophisticated that you can get it to a much higher level. I think FSANZ mentioned earlier that that one per cent threshold was developed due to the technology testing at that stage. I would argue you can now get it to such a level that really you will get to the point that you will deny consumers any choice because the legal liability requirement of all manufacturers just to avoid risk of being in breach of a requirement would mean they will label all products ‘This may contain GM’, which will in itself defeat any purpose of providing choice for consumers.

The broader consequence for the industry is a cost burden for this that actually kills innovation and genuine new technology in agriculture. It is seen that we are at a stage that we would not like the broader options for continued research and commerciality of this to be compromised down the path because of a bill that does not value add for consumers.

Senator XENOPHON —You make an assertion in part 2 of the introduction in your submission:

In agriculture, genes have been modified for more than 10,000 years and this modification has been extremely beneficial to modern civilisation.

Are you saying that genetic modification is similar or identical to natural breeding?

Mr Cossey —Obviously technology now comes into a—

Senator XENOPHON —That is not my question. You are equating natural breeding with GM, are you not, in your submission?

Mr Cossey —It might be better if I pass to one of our leading experts, which is why we have asked Mr Khoo and Mr Sharpe with their scientific backgrounds to attend. Mr Quinn is probably best placed to give you the history.

Mr Quinn —We are not saying that GM is exactly the same technique as conventional breeding.

Senator XENOPHON —Hang on a second. The submission states:

In agriculture, genes have been modified for more than 10,000 years and this modification has been extremely beneficial to modern civilisation. Genetic modification is simply an improvement on previous forms of crop breeding.

Mr Quinn —Yes, that is what we are saying. If I can use wheat as an example, that was originally bred from three unrelated species. There is, I guess, a misconception amongst much of the public that conventional breeding is just plants in the field or perhaps hand pollination. A range of techniques is used in conventional breeding, including mutagenesis, which can lead to completely random genetic changes. mutagenesis started in the 1930s, for example. The point we are trying to make in the submission is that this has been a continual line of improvements in crop breeding technology throughout history, from when we first started hand pollinating and doing what we call wide crosses, to today, where I would argue that instead of our using a sledge hammer we are using a scalpel and very precisely moving genetic material.

Senator XENOPHON —Presumably your background is as a scientist; is that right?

Mr Quinn —That is correct.

Senator XENOPHON —You have one on me. I struggled through year 12 biology 35 years ago.

Senator BOYCE —It has changed.

Senator XENOPHON —Biology has changed? I only got a C for it. I struggled with it. My understanding is that genetic engineering transfers genes from across natural species barriers.

Mr Quinn —Yes, it does. However, so does some conventional breeding. In what we call a wide cross, that is, when two plants that would not normally breed together are stressed through chemicals usually to a point where they will and then create a new species that way. In mutagenesis we are creating genes that have never, ever existed in nature before, and they are both techniques in conventional breeding.

Senator XENOPHON —I want to get to the substance of the bill in a minute, but I was concerned about that particular assertion, because it seems that you are equating the two—natural breeding and genetic engineering. Gene insertion is done either by shooting genes from a gene gun into a plate of cells by using bacteria to invade the cell with foreign DNA—is it reasonable to say that?

Mr Quinn —That is fairly close, yes.

Senator XENOPHON —Fairly close? You are the scientist, I am not.

Mr Quinn —I guess there is a sort of a virus type ophage, as we call it, that is used as well, and slightly different from a bacteria.

Senator XENOPHON —How is it that in the same paragraph you seem to imply that this is some improvement on natural breeding? How can you say that?

Mr Quinn —If I can go back to my starting point about wheat, that is where the 10,000-year thing comes from. Wheat would not have been created by natural processes. We made wheat as a species, and it has been incredibly beneficial to us. A lot of people argue that that was the start of modern agriculture, and modern agriculture underpins modern civilisation. I guess that is what we are trying to get across. It has been a 10,000 year process of our deliberately modifying genes in nature through a range of techniques, and that this is just the latest technique in terms of doing that. It also comes down to animal breeding. You might perhaps breed an animal and see that it is a bit larger than the previous animals. If you look at the different species of cattle that we run in Australia, for example, they are all completely different from a naturally occurring animal. We have bred that to be good for us.

Mr Cossey —I think the Senator’s point is that somehow there might be a greater risk in the way that we do this now compared with how it has been done previously. I would argue that in fact science has developed now to the stage that achieving these outcomes is now done in a much more controlled sense, in a way that we not only just know that it will achieve the stated outcome that we are seeking, but also its consequences, particularly in the area of knowing whether it has any possibilities for allergic responses or the like. This science is now so developed that it is actually safer than the way that it was being done previously. Mr Quinn pointed to that. The way we used to try to force two different breeds together, force genes to work together, used to be under severe stress, a high level of chemical, and then see if it would grow. Any unintended consequences are probably less able to be established. Now it is done with such precision that it is not only achieving the goal but any unintended consequences are also very defined in that process.

Senator XENOPHON —When the American Academy of Environmental Medicine states that several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated ageing, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs in the gastrointestinal system, you are saying that those studies are flawed?

Mr Cossey —We will come back to you on notice with a direct response to that. I know that the American Medical Association has openly and clearly supported all of the mainstream scientific and leading expert scientific research that says that it is safe, and is on the record as discounting any of the studies that have suggested there is a risk.

Senator XENOPHON —Are you familiar with the studies about GMOs and liver problems; that rats fed GM potatoes had smaller, partially atrophied livers, and that the livers of rats fed GM canola were 12 to 16 per cent heavier?

Mr Quinn —We are familiar with all of those studies, and I believe we can say categorically that all three have had major scientific issues with them. I believe the last one has actually recently been withdrawn by the Austrian government, which originally published it, because they had lost faith in the scientific methods that were used to create that study.

Senator XENOPHON —If you could provide me with your rebuttal to those studies? I turn to the bill that Senator Siewert and I introduced and refer to the unintentional presence of GM. You have said that this bill could have the opposite effect? You may have heard the evidence from FSANZ when they were here earlier. It seems that the question of setting the standards is done by FSANZ, and that interpretation and enforcement of those standards is from the states and territories. From your association’s point of view and that of your constituent members, would it make more sense that there be a consistent uniform standard as to what ‘unintentionally present’ means?

Mr Cossey —I think we would be best not to place an opinion on that on the record. It does go beyond our purview. We would argue that—

Senator XENOPHON —But you are affected by this directly, though, are you not?

 (3.56 pm) (Please check ###cassera plant, 4pm)

Mr Cossey —Being the industry group that represents plant science, we represent them at the starting stage, not the food processing industry. It is really more an issue for them. But we do go back to the position of noting that, right at the beginning stage, and particularly in the area where our member companies have an interest as a result of providing product and technologies to Australian agriculture, all these systems are biological systems and hence imposing absolute regimes on them does not work. You also have to understand that we come from a position that there is no health or safety basis on which to be concerned. The issue of a one per cent level or a 10 per cent level, or the fact that there is even a need to worry about the GM component, we think is now futile. However, noting that a centralised system and an agreed set of standards would go to providing some certainty for consumers. There is no doubt about that.

Senator XENOPHON —Are you saying that it is a reasonable assumption on the basis of what you have said, and your submission, that you do not think there is any need for there to be a differentiation in products between GM and non-GM?

Mr Cossey —Between approved foods that contain an approved GM crop and non-GM, absolutely. That is why our proposition is that it is no more or less than my knowing whether my wheat is grown on the southwest slopes of New South Wales or on the plains of Western Australia.

Senator XENOPHON —Do you think it is irrational for consumers to know whether their produce is approved GM or non-GM?

Mr Cossey —I believe that, if you look at all of the agreed evidence, in fact any generation of concern over approved GM in food product is driven by a non-scientific, fact free, alarmist and scaremongering section of the community. I believe it is a minority. I am not too sure that it serves the public good or a public policy good, particularly considering the broader importance of food labelling. We support food labelling and all that it seeks to achieve where it needs to achieve public policy outcomes. You get to the point of every time you add something more to a label, you can in fact start distracting them from what are probably important issues.

Senator XENOPHON —So, if it is an approved GM, it is not important whether you are eating something that is GM or non-GM?

Mr Cossey —If it is an approved GM, we would say that the entire regulatory regime from beginning of research through to approval to include in the food chain therefore means it is no longer an issue of mandatory requirement. But if it is an issue of interest, if it is an issue of consumer demand, absolutely. We do not oppose food producers including it, if they believe that their consumers are interested and want it. I would argue that for a principle position of mandating it it should only be done on a public safety or health basis, and there is none.

Senator XENOPHON —Are you saying that there is no basis to concerns about approved GM organisms in food?

Mr Cossey —Correct.

Senator XENOPHON —On that basis, there should be no reason for consumers to choose to buy non-GM, because it would be an irrational choice?

Mr Cossey —Correct. In fact, as I alluded to in an earlier answer, I believe one day it will in fact be that the products that contain certain approved GM components will be advertising themselves more clearly, because the non-scientific, alarmist and scaremongering component of the debate will have diminished and consumers will recognise the significant advantages of GM. I do not say that lightly, not just in terms of a modern developed consumer economy but in terms of the genuine benefits that GM is providing, whether it is the cotton industry in India, golden rice through South-East Asia or, in fact, the phenomenal research going on in Africa with the cassera plant. We are genuinely talking about GM delivering massive, significant benefits.

Senator XENOPHON —So the American Association of Environmental Medicine are crackpots, basically?

Mr Cossey —No, I did not say that.

Senator XENOPHON —You are implying that they are.

Mr Cossey —Mr Khoo is well placed to address that.

Mr Khoo —It is one agency that has come out with that position. I believe they are a minority. Many other agencies have come out in support of it. The number of agencies is also mentioned in the submission that CropLife put in.

Senator XENOPHON —My time is going to run out, so—

Mr Cossey —For the record, the organisation to which you refer is an NGO. It is not a government regulator and the like, and I do not wish to in any way make a reflection on them. However, I would point out that I think it is important for the record.

ACTING CHAIR —Governments have got it wrong before.

Senator XENOPHON —Although presumably it does include medical practitioners and scientists on it. I want to focus on part 1 of the executive summary. You state:

The development of ‘due diligence’ guidelines that is required by the bill is redundant—

and I am grateful that you actually made this submission, because I think it is quite a specific and focussed submission—

... with provisions in the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010, which already prevent manufacturers from engaging in conduct that is misleading or deceptive, as well as obligations in the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code (Food Standards Code) that require the labelling of any intentionally present GM ingredients. These provisions already effectively require manufacturers to conduct due diligence when making claims that ingredients are not genetically modified.

What is your understanding of due diligence? How would due diligence work? Does your association have protocols in place to say that this is the due diligence we need to conform with to comply with the competition and consumer act?

Mr Cossey —They go to the standard principles of law and reasonableness.

Senator XENOPHON —Again, I commend you for making a very specific submission. Tying it back to another piece of legislation I thought was very clever, and I do not say that in a pejorative way. I thought it was a very focused submission. But for that to make sense, ought there not be some protocols/parameters as to what that due diligence would involve?

Mr Cossey —Again, I would suggest that the entire principle on our legal system provides those components to what would be considered reasonable, and if it were to come into dispute it is our legal and courts system that determines it.

Senator XENOPHON —I think the chair is going to shut me up in a minute. You are the peak body. You advise all of these groups. Is it not part of that advice to say, ‘In order for you to comply with due diligence ...’? I have been a member of the Law Society. They say, ‘These are the things you need to do for professional practice to comply and to meet standards.’ Do you not have some set standards on this?

Mr Cossey —In terms of broader corporate citizenship, we set some of the highest standards any industry—

Senator XENOPHON —Due diligence—

Mr Cossey —I am going to get there. In terms of stewardship and corporate citizenship, we set some of the leading standards of any industry with regard to stewardship and associated programs. With regard to our individual member companies complying with the law, that is a matter for them and their appropriate legal advice. It is not appropriate for us to dictate that. Again, we get back to the position of their needing to comply with the law and the basic principles that underpin that. They need to ensure they are confident that they are meeting the requirements of the law and the spirit and intention of which it is meant to be adhered to.

Senator XENOPHON —Because I have run out of time, can you take on notice how ‘unintentionally present’ is defined by your association? How do you advise you members on the issue of due diligence and on the issue of ‘unintentionally present’?

Mr Quinn —For the purposes of clarification, do you want feedback from our members about how they—

Senator XENOPHON —From your association and from your members.

Mr Quinn —About how they meet the due diligence in food manufacturing?

Senator XENOPHON —In terms of the whole issue of GMOs, as set out, I thought quite well, in your submission in the executive summary, in the context of the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010?

Senator BOYCE —We have had some discussions around the concentrations of genetically modified material that one can measure. Could you perhaps give us some sense of what we are talking about in terms of cost, complexity and reliability of tests as you go down from one per cent towards what Greenpeace wants, which is untraceable?

Mr Cossey —Trace elements. One kernel of corn rubbed against another.

Senator BOYCE —Nothing there, yes.

Mr Khoo —There are some studies that show that the lower you go in terms of thresholds the cost goes up exponentially. In terms of the complexity of testing, one is the complexity involved. So, in other words, you have to have a validated method, which is not easy to establish, because there are certain criteria, and you have to have these methods verified by a number of labs in various locations. There is also the complexity of producing high-quality reference material so that you can detect very low thresholds and then there is also the complexity with regard to sampling. If something is at a very low level you might sample a part of your consignment and not find it, but when it gets to the other end and someone tests that consignment again they might hit upon that little bit that is there. So, sampling also adds some uncertainty into it. That is where the costs are associated, in producing the end analysis method in sampling. That is where the cost is associated—the complexity of it.

Senator BOYCE —When you say the costs go up exponentially—I am probably asking you to do something quite difficult—can you quantify that in any way and give us some examples?

Mr Khoo —Not off the top of my head, but I can take that on notice, too, because I think there is a paper by Kalaitzandonakes and Magnier. They have done some quantifications. I can produce that.

Senator BOYCE —That would be good, thank you. The other thing you mentioned was sampling getting more difficult as you are going down the scale. I am presuming that in the example you gave not only would you have to check your source material but you would also need to check every stage of the transportation and processing from wherever the test was done to the ultimate product as well?

Mr Khoo —If you have an identity preserved type of system you would have to do that at every stage of the supply chain.

Senator BOYCE —And you would need to do it at every stage of the supply chain, because it might be easy to say, ‘Well, it should only be the last processor who does it’, but if I were to find genetically modified material I would want to be able to go back to my supplier and say, ‘Well, it is your fault, not my fault.’ They are going to have to prove to me that they did not supply it to me in that condition. So, every step along the way you would have testing done, from growth to end of line?

Mr Khoo —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —Looking at the bill, is a potential consequence of this that everything would simply say, ‘May contain GM material’?

Mr Cossey —Again, it is not for us to suggest legal advice to the food producing industry, but on that principle again of ensuring that you have addressed all liability, and considering how advanced the GMO testing can get to—to the low levels—I would think you would nearly get to the safe position that they simply put the label on everything ‘This may contain genetically modified material’ to ensure that they do not expose themselves to any action as a safe measure. That then can, I think, take away some of the information choice that the bill is perhaps proposing.

Senator BOYCE —So that we get to the ‘may have been made using machinery that was used for peanuts’ or something—that sort of ‘maybe, maybe, maybe’?

ACTING CHAIR —Which really goes to show that GM is now through the whole of the supply chain; that is what you are arguing.

Mr Cossey —Yes. And again though—

ACTING CHAIR —So you are taking away choice. So your argument—

Mr Cossey —the approved GM, absolutely; it did not come into the chain until it was absolutely proven. I suppose it goes to a point mentioned earlier about the trials. I would encourage the committee to have the OGTR come before it. Just so there is no confusion, the threat of it being caught up in a food processing system I think even at best is stretched theoretically because any trial of GM crops under licence, bar none, must be destroyed at the end of the trial. That contains any unapproved GM risk, but with regards to approved GM, yes.

ACTING CHAIR —That is the argument that a lot of the NGOs are making, that there is no such thing as segregation anymore truly, and that GM is now throughout the system, and that is the basis of your argument. So, when you say there is no choice, your argument is there is no choice anyway.

Mr Cossey —Our argument is that you are dealing with biological systems and therefore the absolutes do not exist and they have happily coexisted for a long time. In terms of any threat, though, again, none of these incidentals actually poses any threat.

ACTING CHAIR —According to the industry.

Senator BOYCE —Parts of a hundred and parts of a thousand, we can talk about. It is when we get to not identifiable at all that there is a problem, is it not?

ACTING CHAIR —One per cent is identifiable.

Senator BOYCE —Yes, but that is parts per hundred.

ACTING CHAIR —Yes. People still want to know.

Mr Cossey —I do not know that they do. I certainly would not, by agreeing to say people want to know, wish to in any way endorse the Greenpeace suggestion that 90 per cent of people want it labelled. I am not too sure of the efficacy of that study.

ACTING CHAIR —Have you done any studies?

Mr Cossey —Our argument is that food producers—who we do not represent—do mass amounts of market research and studies. If it was an issue of such significance I think you would see them already identifying it for or against in their labelling.

Mr Quinn —We have not done a survey ourselves. However, FSANZ did a survey—I believe it was 2007—of 1,200 Australians, and they found that only a very small number were concerned about the safety of GM food ingredients. It was 2.9 per cent, compared to concerns about the safety of fresh fruit or vegetables, which was roughly 25 per cent; meat, 18.8 per cent; raw chicken, 18 per cent, and so forth. The survey showed that people were most concerned with the fat, sugar and salt content of their food. When asked, ‘What information do you usually look for on a food label?’ they listed 16 other things, including use-by date, country of origin, fat, saturated fat and so on, before they listed GM.

ACTING CHAIR —But that is not yours; that is FSANZ’s?

Mr Quinn —That is a FSANZ study.

ACTING CHAIR —Of 1,200 people?

Mr Quinn —Yes.

ACTING CHAIR —I think we might get a copy off FSANZ of that.

Mr Quinn —We could probably provide that to you.

ACTING CHAIR —We will go straight to the source. I just want to know what questions they asked.

Mr Quinn —Yes.


Mr Quinn —I think it is worth having a look at the Greenpeace survey and what questions they actually asked, yes.

ACTING CHAIR —Yes, I was intending to go and ask them for theirs as well.

Mr Quinn —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —There was a Newspoll survey.

Mr Quinn —It was a Newspoll survey funded by Greenpeace, yes.

ACTING CHAIR —Governments seem to have risen and fallen on Newspoll surveys. Senator Colbeck, do you have any questions?

Senator COLBECK —In relation to the testing and the comment that you made, Mr Cossey, about destruction, I have seen quite a bit of testing in the past in my home state and I agree with your comment that there is a requirement for destruction. It is not always that simple, though. I have seen circumstances where there has been a reasonable representative sample of volunteers that crop up over a period during that process, and my concern in the question that I had to FSANZ was that they were actually looking at those issues. I also recognise that there are things such as isolation from similar species and that sort of thing, but it is not always all that possible to ensure that you maintain those trials completely contained. I am aware of the fact that they have taken some work to complete the destruction of the trial. Some of them are quite resilient and it is not necessarily a product of their being genetically modified, it is a product of the fact of the plant that they are that they are quite resilient. That was the context around which I was looking at targeting certain areas and certain circumstances for the testing processes, because that is what would make sense to me in an overall regulatory regime. I just wanted to clear that up.

ACTING CHAIR —Do you have any comments in response?

Mr Cossey —No. Mr Sharpe has significant expertise in this area. In advance of OGTR coming before the committee and to assist the committee, he might run through those core issues for you, if you like.

ACTING CHAIR —We have been through OGTR on numerous occasions on these issues—I have to put on the record—not necessarily to my satisfaction, but we will go around the tree again.

Senator COLBECK —I do not have any need to. I understand it relatively well. If you want to put more on the record for this inquiry, that is fine with me.

ACTING CHAIR —I think we need to have a discussion, because we have actually come to a point where we sometimes agree to disagree, but it may be useful for us to get it for this inquiry.

Mr Cossey —Mr Sharpe might be able to just quickly give you, from the plant science industry’s perspective, how we view the effectiveness of that system.

ACTING CHAIR —That would be good—very useful, actually.

Senator XENOPHON —If the organisation—the peak body and also the constituent members—have a view as to how they determine ‘unintentionally present’, that would be quite useful. Take that on notice.

Mr Cossey —I would just note that we would take that specifically to our industry and, again, that our industry are not food processors, but within the context of the plant science industry, absolutely.

ACTING CHAIR —I thought we had already got past that on notice.

Senator COLBECK —Have you asked that question to the Food and Grocery Council?

Senator XENOPHON —I think we should put that up as a supplementary question if we could.

Senator COLBECK —I agree.

Senator XENOPHON —Yes.


Mr Sharpe —I can probably answer that very quickly, in that part of the approval process from OGTR to do your tests is that you must comply with a very strict, what we call, stewardship regime to manage that site, including all the volunteers that might come up. I am sure, when you do speak to OGTR again, they can give you the procedure, if you like, that is standard for the companies doing the testing to observe. The companies are audited to make sure that is happening, and OGTR can turn up on your site, pretty much unannounced, and say, ‘Show me the site’ and have a look and see what is happening.

Senator COLBECK —And I am happy to acknowledge that they are strict, because I have seen some of them.

ACTING CHAIR —Yes, but some of the issues that we have traversed with OGTR is what happens once it is outside the trial period. You will be aware of the Marsh situation in WA. I am absolutely sure you are.

Mr Cossey —I think it is very important to differentiate that and to combine that up with what we have just discussed is not correct. The trials are referring to GM crops that are in scientific trial that are not approved. The material that you are referring to with regards to the farmer in Western Australia—that is an approved GM crop, which poses absolutely no risk whatsoever, and has been, and is, approved.

ACTING CHAIR —Yes, I understand that. This is a conversation we have had with OGTR and you can have a look on the Hansard. The point there is that it has still resulted in Mr Marsh losing—and it is a different issue, I know—part of his organic certification through however means the plants got there. I know there are issues around that. It has still resulted in his losing part of his organic certification. That is an impact on him.

Mr Cossey —That is outside the scope of this bill, but in light of the fact that you have mentioned it, I think it is appropriate that I put on the record that our best understanding of that matter, though, is that goes to perhaps what is a standard that is driven more by a position by NASAA and an anti-GM position, as opposed to a pro-organics industry position. That same farm and that same farmer in Europe, Canada and the US, in complying with the international Codex standards, would not have lost that authorisation, as best I understand it.

ACTING CHAIR —That is the certification he is operating under, but it goes to the other issue that we were talking about and that is GM, segregation and so on.

Mr Cossey —Just for the purposes of the trial, I think it is important to note that the conditions under which trials occur and the crop is destroyed and contained are entirely different then from approved GM crops being planted by farmers, as is appropriate. The trials are strictly and totally controlled because they are not yet approved. We are doing that research for the purposes of seeking their approval. As Mr Sharpe has pointed out, the entire licensing through the OGTR in conjunction with the APVMA, makes sure that it is totally controlled, and therefore different circumstances from then a crop that is planted by a farmer which is approved for growing and sale.

Senator COLBECK —You do not need to be involved in this, but I am just going to put it on the record, anyway. It is not always the organic grower that gets impacted by these particular circumstances. I am aware—

Senator BOYCE —Those nasty organic seeds floating over fences.

Senator COLBECK —No, it is not. It is actually quite often some disease coming off organic crops into other crops, because the diseases are not managed. I am aware of a particular site where a fairly nasty case of powdery mildew went through a neighbour’s crop, because the organic farmer chose not to treat it. These things do actually work both ways, although we do not very often hear the stories about it.

ACTING CHAIR —I agree with you; it is a broader issue. The issue around liability, as you know, is still an ongoing one, in terms of who has liability for what. I think that will be going around the tree a number of times continuing into the future.

Mr Cossey —With the best intentions.

Senator BOYCE —So the person who comes up with 20-metre membrane fences is going to make a fortune; is that not right?

ACTING CHAIR —Any final questions? We are done. Thank you very much. You have some homework, I think, and we are going to be following up on some of the other issues that you have raised subsequently as well, with some of the other witnesses.

Mr Cossey —Thank you for the opportunity of appearing.

ACTING CHAIR —We will endeavour to reconvene tomorrow in Melbourne.

Subcommittee adjourned at 4.23 pm