GM legislation debate heats up

Debate over gene editing legislation heats up in wake of disallowance motion

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The disallowance motion by Greens Senator Janet Rice regarding amendments to the gene technology act has predictably raised tempers within the ag sector.

The disallowance motion by Greens Senator Janet Rice regarding amendments to the gene technology act has predictably raised tempers within the ag sector.

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The environmental and organics sector support a disallowance motion for changes to the gene technology act, but other farm groups do not.

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THE MAINSTREAM agriculture sector is on a collision course with environmental and organic farming groups over controversial changes to the Gene Technology act.

Groups such as Friends of the Earth and Organics Australia are supporting a disallowance motion from Greens Senator Janet Rice that would stop the unregulated use of gene editing techniques in plants, animals and microbes.

Among the techniques that would not need to be labelled as genetic modification is the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) system, which plant scientists say could markedly shorten the plant breeding cycle.

CRISPR technology is legislated as genetic modification in jurisdictions such as Europe.

Supporters of Senator Rice urged the same approach here and said there was the need for safety assessment and regulatory oversight with gene editing.

The debate is set to continue in the lead up to the vote in the Senate on November 13.

Friends of the Earth emerging technology spokesperson Louise Sales said her group was against the use of gene editing in farm animals as it posed risk to human health, the environment and animal welfare, a point hotly disputed by the biotechnology sector.

Ms Sales said she was concerned about the unintended consequences of gene editing.

"These techniques can result in high levels of unexpected genetic mutations in mammals," she said.

Gene editing in animals is looking at developing positive traits such as disease resistance and more rapid weight gain.

Australian Dairy Farmers said it opposed the disallowance motion, labelling it 'reckless'.

Peak dairy farmer group Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) criticised the move as a reckless attempt to weaken the dairy industry's profitability.

"The dairy industry sees significant opportunities from the use of new gene editing techniques to improve the pasture-based dairy production system," ADF president Terry Richardson said.

The organic industry has concerns about the deregulation of gene editing and said Australia needed to stay in line

"We need to be much more cautious about these new technologies" said Dalene Wray, acting chair of Organic Industries of Australia.

"The Court of Justice of the European Union has already ruled that crops created using these new gene-editing technologies are regulated as GMOs and subject to the same high hurdles for developing GM crops."

She said if the deregulation was passed the organic sector had concerns it would lose certification into markets such as the EU.

The story GM legislation debate heats up first appeared on Farm Online.

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