Wilson da Silva, Sydney
AUSTRALIA and New Zealand are poised to introduce what may be the world’s toughest regulations governing the sale of food made from genetically modified plants or animals.
The regulations were prepared by the Australia and New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) and are likely to come into effect before the end of the year.
Companies who want to market modified foods will have to apply to the ANZFA for approval, which will subject each application to scientific scrutiny in a process that could take as long as a year. If approved, foods containing more than 5 per cent genetically modified material will have to be labelled as such.
Manufacturers who want to sell food to which genes have been added must provide data on the sources of the new genes and full sequences of the DNA they have manipulated, the vectors used to ferry the genes into place and the markersequences that indicate whether they have been successfully introduced. They must also provide information on the potential of the genes to cause disease or produce toxins, and on any previous uses of the genes in food.
Similarly stringent requirements will apply if no genes have been added, but if some of a plant or animal’s natural genes have been deleted.
The ANZFA believes this regime is the strictest so far proposed anywhere. “They are saying that everything is guilty until proven innocent,” says Rosemary Robins, a specialist in ethics and genetics at the University of Melbourne, who supports the plan. Industry groups are less happy, however. “It’s overkill,” says Pam Saunders of the Australian Food Council.
The regulations will be reviewed by Australian and New Zealand health ministers in April or May, and could be implemented within a few months. They will not require approval by the two countries’ parliaments.
Under existing laws, there is nothing to prevent most genetically engineered foodstuffs from reaching grocery shelves in Australia and New Zealand. However, a voluntary moratorium agreed by the food industry and the countries’governments has been in place since 1993.