QUESTION: Deregulation of new GM techniques

During Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Health and Wellbeing about the SA Government's position on the federal deregulation of new genetic modification techniques, given the significance of this decision and the likely negative impact on overseas markets for Australian food products if deregulation proceeds. Mark also requested that the Minister release the regulatory impact statement and any analysis on trade and market access impacts, including economic impacts on South Australian farmers and businesses.


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: In question time last September, I asked the minister about the Marshall Liberal government's position on the proposed changes to the commonwealth gene technology regulations that would deregulate a number of new GM techniques. I understand that the federal government has asked the states to sign off on the proposed regulatory changes by 11 March this year.

Last week, on 20 February, the Consumers Union of Japan issued an open letter to Australia under the title 'Please regulate new GM technologies strictly'. In that letter, they say:

"Consumers in Japan are strongly opposed to GM technology and do not want to eat such products. In light of this, we are alarmed to hear that Australia is considering to deregulate new GM technologies, including CRISPR, in animals, plants and microbes. Japanese consumers would not at all be willing to eat such products, either."

They end their letter with:

"Please regulate new GM technologies as strictly if not even stricter than older GM technologies, or you risk harming Australia's image as a food producer here in Japan, and we will boycott all such products."

I have also previously outlined concerns about the likely impacts on trade and markets in Europe that will result from a decision to deregulate these GM techniques in Australia. I won't repeat those now, but I do want to put on the record my disappointment that my freedom of information request to the minister's office for access to the regulatory impact statement and any consideration of trade and market access implications relating to this important decision was refused last December.

My questions are:

Given the significance of any decision to deregulate new GM techniques and the likely negative impact on overseas markets for Australian food products if this goes ahead, can the minister:

1. Provide details of any analysis on trade and market access impacts, including economic impacts on South Australian farmers and businesses?

2. Publish any such analysis, as well as releasing the regulatory impact statement?

3. Advise what position he will be taking on behalf of South Australia, and could he outline his reasons for taking this position?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I thank the honourable member for his question. On 11 October 2018, the national gene technology forum met for the first time in nine years. It met in Adelaide, and it was to discuss two issues: the outcome of the national review of the gene technology scheme and the technical review of the commonwealth Gene Technology Regulations.

The technical review of the Gene Technology Regulations was instigated by the national regulator to provide clarity following technical advances in this field. These regulations specify activities and organisms that fall under the national scheme. The technical review considered any risks to human health and the environment and proposed steps to address ambiguity in regard to some gene technology techniques. The forum—that is the ministers forum, the national gene technology forum—welcomed this technical review and requested further information regarding the impacts of the proposed changes to the Gene Technology Regulations. This information is still under consideration.

In relation to any out of session proceedings, I am not aware of any, but I will certainly take that on notice and seek clarification. Likewise, I would need to seek clarification on modelling. I would not expect SA Health to be doing any modelling. This forum is a commonwealth-state forum, and I imagine it would be done by the national gene technology bodies. I assure the house that the government will take into consideration all relevant impacts when it considers the regulations.