Biotechnology

Biotechnology (including but not limited to genetic modification) has an important role to play in helping to deal with emerging challenges, including those arising from climate change, pressure on global food supplies and the management of pests and diseases. This technology can also benefit the environment, through reduced chemical use, and consumers, through the development of products with greater health benefits.

The Department of Agriculture is committed to making Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry more sustainable, competitive and profitable. The responsible adoption of biotechnology will contribute to the achievement of this objective.

Regulatory Framework in Australia

The development and use of genetically modified (GM) organisms in Australia is regulated through an integrated framework that includes the Gene Technology Act 2000 and corresponding state and territory legislation. The object of the Act is to protect the health and safety of people and to protect the environment by identifying risks posed by or results from gene technology. Economic and marketing considerations such as coexistence and segregation in agricultural supply chains are addressed through state-specific requirements or industry protocols. Decisions on whether to allow GM crop production in part or all of a state or territory are a matter for that jurisdiction.

For further information see Regulatory Framework of GM in Australia.

GM crops in Australia

The worldwide adoption of GM crops has rapidly increased every year since their introduction in 1995, including in Australia.

GM crops approved for commercial release in Australia by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator are cotton and canola. The GM cotton varieties have been modified to be resistant to certain pests and/or herbicides and the GM canola varieties are herbicide resistant.

GM canola was grown commercially for the first time in 2008 after Victoria and New South Wales lifted their moratoria on GM canola. Western Australia allowed the commercial planting of GM canola from the 2010 season.

ABARES estimates that, Australia wide, 175 000 hectares of GM canola were planted in 2012-13 (8.2 per cent of total canola plantings), up from 164 000 hectares (9.5 per cent) in 2011–12GM cotton has been grown in Australia since 1996 and now makes up around 95 per cent of Australia’s cotton crop.

Moratoria

Decisions on whether to allow GM crop production in part or all of a state or territory are a matter for that jurisdiction. In 2003 the regulator issued commercial release licences after assessing two applications for GM canola (‘InVigor’ and ‘Roundup Ready’ canola). All state and territory governments, except Queensland and the Northern Territory, subsequently enacted moratorium legislation to delay the commercial release of GM canola until marketing considerations had been addressed. Independent reviews of the Victorian and New South Wales moratoria in 2007 found that earlier concerns about market access, economic impact and segregation had largely been resolved since the moratoria were first put in place, and GM canola could now be produced commercially in those states. Following a commercial trial of GM canola in 2009, the Western Australian (WA) Government announced in January 2010 that GM canola could be grown on a commercial scale in WA from 2010 onwards.

Tasmania has a moratorium on the commercial release of GMOs until 2014. South Australia’s moratorium on GM food crops will continue until at least 2019.

Segregation and coexistence

Segregation and coexistence, along with other marketing and economic considerations, are managed through state specific regulations and industry protocols.

The industry recognises that supply chain participants, including farmers, will make their own choices about methods of production (whether to operate under organic principles, or to grow conventional or GM crops).

The canola industry has developed a framework for managing market choice.

International trade in agricultural biotechnologies

Australia participates in multilateral efforts to promote the application of science–based, transparent and predictable regulatory approaches that foster innovation and ensure a safe and reliable global food supply, including the cultivation and use of agricultural products derived from innovative technologies.

As part of this work, Australia has endorsed a joint statement on innovative agricultural production technologies, particularly plant biotechnologies.

Australia has also endorsed an international statement on low level presence of GMOs.

GM Wheat Trials

The department received a Freedom of Information Act 1982 request (FOI 2011/12-25) seeking access to documents relating to genetically modified wheat trials in Australia. The applicant has been advised that some of the documentation sought has been released with exemptions.

The information released under the FOI Act is below:

Further information

There are a number of reports, articles and factsheets relating to biotechnology in Australia and overseas.

View the reports and articles.

View brochures and fact sheets.

Further information on biotechnology may be accessed through useful links.

Copies of fact sheets and reports can be requested from:

Assistant Secretary
Research and Development and Food Security
Agricultural Productivity Division
Australian Government Department of Agriculture
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601