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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1629


Senator Allison asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 12 February 2008:

(1)   Is the Minister aware of the study by Dr Judy Carman of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in July 2006, commissioned by the Western Australian Minister for Agriculture and Food, which reviewed abstracts listed on the AgBioWorld website (www.agbioworld.org) and found that they did not demonstrate that genetically-modified (GM) crops were safe for human consumption, as claimed, and that GM crops may be harmful to human health.

(2)   Is the Minister aware that: (a) of the nine abstracts remaining at the end of this process, the majority (six abstracts, or 67 per cent) show potentially adverse effects of GM crops on the health of the experimental animals, while three (33 per cent) found no adverse effects; (b) the six papers showing adverse effects found evidence that GM potatoes could harm the liver and gastrointestinal tract and GM soy could adversely affect the liver and pancreas; (c) one paper found that GM DNA from GM corn was detectible in the intestinal contents of pigs up to 48 hours after eating, making it available for uptake into tissues and gut bacteria; and (d) three papers found no adverse effects: (i) on the development and function of mouse testes from eating GM corn, (ii) on some biochemical measurements from eating GM potatoes, and (iii) on some pathology, haematology, biochemistry and urine measurements from eating GM soy.

(3)   In light of this study, will the Minister consider a moratorium on further GM crops in Australia, pending further independent, long-term, peer reviewed, multi-generational animal and human feeding studies, measuring outcomes relevant to human health.

(4)   In regard to the Australia New Zealand Food Authority’s approval, in 2003, of the applications of Monsanto Aust Ltd and Bayer Crop Science Pty Ltd for GM canola: (a) which independent, long-term, peer reviewed, multi-generational animal and human feeding studies, measuring outcomes relevant to human health, were relied upon; and (b) which, if any, of these studies was conducted in Australia.

(5)   Can the Minister confirm that, of the crop samples so far grown, none has been released for independent, human health-related testing; if so, why?

(6)   Is there any requirement for Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator to review approvals of GM crops and foods as new information is received; if not: (a) why not; (b) when will the Minister announce such a requirement; and (c) how and when should such new information be reviewed.

(7) (a)   If GM canola is introduced into Australia and it is found to have adverse effects on the economy, farming systems, people or the environment, what processes are in place to remove the canola from Australia and/or the food supply; and (b) how effective are these processes likely to be.


Senator Ludwig (Minister for Human Services) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s questions:

(1)   Yes.

(2)   Yes. Notably, the author acknowledged that each paper would need to be reviewed in full to determine the reliability of the conclusions reported. Comprehensive evaluations by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) of the findings in the studies alluded to in Dr Carman’s report have not raised any valid food safety concerns relevant to genetically modified (GM) foods or crops approved for use in Australia.

(3)   No, see response to question 2. FSANZ and other international food regulators undertake a robust assessment of GM food applications. To reach a conclusion about the safety for human consumption of a GM food, each food must be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account a variety of evidence to reach an overall conclusion about the safety of that particular food. An expert panel, convened by FSANZ in June 2007, noted that while whole-food feeding studies may be informative in some limited circumstances, any potential adverse health effects can be identified by a scientifically-informed, comparative assessment of the GM food against its conventional counterpart with a history of safe use. Health Canada, the United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have arrived at similar conclusions. However, the Government recognises that there continues to be some level of concern in the community and that there should be well informed public debate on the issues surrounding the use of GM food crops.

(4)  

(a)   FSANZ advises that such studies were not conducted.

(b)   N/A.

(5)   The release of crop samples is a matter for commercial crop developers not a matter that requires government intervention. Before a genetically modified crop can be licensed to be grown in Australia it must undergo a rigorous risk analysis by the Gene Technology Regulator (the Regulator). If a GM crop is intended for food use it must also undergo a comprehensive safety assessment by FSANZ.

(6)   Yes. FSANZ receives information relevant to food safety on an ongoing basis, and evaluates and acts on that information if a risk to public health and safety is identified. New technical information obtained through standard monitoring practices is evaluated through normal risk assessment channels. The Regulator also has a number of mechanisms to collect new information after a licence has been issued for a GM crop. Licence holders are required to inform the Regulator if they become aware of any additional information indicating a risk to the health and safety of people or the environment, or of any unintended effects associated with the dealings authorised by the licence. Information may also be supplied by other persons covered by a licence or by any other organisation or individual, or be identified through monitoring activities conducted by the Regulator’s office. The Regulator is required to monitor international practice in the regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and reviews relevant scientific literature on an ongoing basis. New information relevant to existing commercial releases may come to the Regulator’s attention during the preparation of risk assessments for subsequent applications for similar GMOs.

(a)   N/A

(b)   N/A

(c)   In relation to GM foods, FSANZ obtains new technical information from time to time on GM crop varieties already approved in the Food Standards Code. This information is scientifically assessed for its potential to impact on any existing regulatory approvals for GM foods. To date, new information has not raised any public health and safety concerns associated with current GM food approvals, and there has been no justification for withdrawing approval for any assessed GM food line. The Regulator considers any new information relating to human health and safety or the environment to determine if any changes to the conclusions of the initial Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan are required. The Regulator is empowered to vary, suspend or cancel licences in order to be satisfied that risks posed by gene technology are managed so as to protect human health and safety and the environment.

(7)  

(a)   If a licensed GM crop was found to be having adverse effects on human health or the environment, the Regulator could vary a licence in order to be satisfied that risks are managed, and to direct licence holders to take appropriate actions. Emergency powers also exist for inspectors to take steps in order to avoid an imminent serious risk. I am advised by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry that if a licensed GM crop was found to be having adverse effects on the economy or farming systems, commercial factors would be expected to reduce, or may even eliminate, its production. Whether Australian Government intervention was necessary would depend on the extent and nature of the adverse effects.

(b)   Effective mechanisms for recalling foods found to pose an unacceptable safety risk to consumers have been in place in Australia for many years. It is a legal requirement for all food businesses engaged in the wholesale supply, manufacture or importation of food to have an up-to-date food recall plan. Food recall systems ensure Commonwealth and State and Territory health authorities work with industry to make certain any unsafe food is quickly removed from distribution, sale and consumption. I am advised by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry that if complete removal of a GMO from Australian farming systems was warranted on the basis of adverse effects on the economy or farming systems, this would require coordinated action by governments and industry and would be managed on a case-by-case basis.