Chapter 1 Introduction and Review process
In 2003, the Federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) approved the commercial release of Bayer CropScience's InVigor® genetically modified (GM) canola and Monsanto Australia's Roundup Ready® GM canola. The OGTR concluded that these pose no greater risk to human health or the environment than does conventionally bred canola. The Victorian Government in 2004 concluded that the timing was not appropriate for the full commercial release of GM canola, due to 'divisions and uncertainty within industry, the farming sector and regional communities about the impact of GM crops on markets'
(Office of the Premier 2004).
On 12 May 2004, the Minister for Agriculture thus issued an Order declaring a moratorium in Victoria on the commercial scale planting of GM canola. The moratorium is in place until 29 February 2008. All other Australian states and territories, except Queensland and the Northern Territory, have introduced moratoria on either GM canola or, more broadly, GM crops for various lengths of time.
The moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM canola in Victoria was imposed in 2004 for trade and market access reasons. With regard to markets and trade, the controversy surrounding the commercial cultivation of GM crops has centred on the potential to damage Victoria's status as a 'clean, green' agriculture producer and the loss of both market access and price premiums for Australian canola export markets. These market related concerns extend to the potential for the unintended presence of GM canola in other key export grains such as wheat and barley, potentially jeopardising these valuable markets. Some stakeholders have sought the opportunity to use the technology, while others want the option to trade GM free varieties. Other issues concern the costs and liability that may be imposed on GM and non-GM farmers to segregate GM from non-GM crops so as to supply markets that are GM sensitive.
This chapter describes the process for the Review of the Victorian moratorium. It outlines the Australian system for regulating GM organisms (GMOs), including an account of the establishment of the Victorian moratorium on GM herbicide-tolerant canola. An outline of the full report concludes this chapter.
1.1 Review process
On 22 May 2007, the Premier of Victoria announced the establishment of an independent Panel to review the moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM canola in Victoria and released the terms of reference for this Review, along with background material on the Victorian moratorium. The Premier also announced the appointment of the Review's independent Panel: Professor Sir Gustav Nossal (Chair), Mrs Christine Forster and Mrs Merna Curnow. The Panel co-opted the expertise of Mrs Carolyn Tanner during their deliberations (see appendix 1 for details of Panel membership). The Panel was asked to submit a report to the Minister for Agriculture.
The Panel came to the task with an open mind and examined information from submissions, discussions with a range of stakeholders, and a number of independent reports, including those prepared for this Review and others undertaken during the past four years. The terms of appointment of the Review Panel included a requirement to consult with key stakeholders and to invite public submissions.
In considering its terms of reference (see page iii), the Panel emphasises that it is not the purpose of this Review to judge the national regulatory agencies' health and environmental assessments of InVigor® and Roundup Ready® canola. The Panel understands that Victoria has enabled the national regulatory system through the Gene Technology Act 2001 (Vic.). Further, it notes that the Victorian Government recently commissioned an independent review of that Act and accepted the recommendations that the objectives of the Act remain valid and that the scope of the Act be maintained (Government of Victoria 2006). In other words, the Victorian Government continues to support the national agencies' regulation of health and environmental risks (see appendix 2). The Panel is mindful, therefore, that the context for this Review is the Victorian Government's jurisdiction only over the regulation of OGTR-approved GM crops for marketing purposes.
Although outside the Review's terms of reference, given the many submissions that expressed concerns about human health and environmental risks, the Panel sought assurance from the OGTR that the 2003 approvals for InVigor® and Roundup Ready® canola remain appropriate in 2007. The Panel was satisfied with the detailed evidence provided in response that the agency continues to closely (and formally) scrutinise any new data relevant to its jurisdiction, and that ongoing assessments of InVigor® and Roundup Ready® canola reveal no information that would justify varying, suspending or cancelling the commercial release licences issued by the OGTR.
1.1.2 Matters taken into account
In preparing this report for the Minister for Agriculture, the Panel took account of the following:
- issues raised in written submissions received after the public release of the Review Issues paper on 16 July 2007 (Victorian Department of Primary Industries 2007)
- issues raised during the July–August 2007 consultations with stakeholders and interested parties
- issues that have changed significantly since the moratorium came into effect in 2004, including industry initiatives and positions, national and state government activities and decisions, trade and market dynamics for GM crops and consumer attitudes
- reports and other literature relating to the risks identified in 2004.
As of 28 August 2007, the Review Panel had received 1178 written submissions, and 36 individuals and organisations had participated in stakeholder consultations (see appendix 3 for a list of those who presented written submissions, and appendix 4 for a list of those who attended the Review consultations). Individual submissions numbered 248, while the remaining 930 submissions were copies of one of three campaign letters. Of the latter group, 262 were copies of a Victorian citizen campaign submission (sub. 9), 18 were copies of a Victorian Farmers Federation campaign submission (sub. 17) and 650 were copies of a Japanese citizen campaign submission (sub. 252). All submissions to the Review can be viewed at Review of the Moratorium on GM Canola.
1.2 National regulatory arrangements
Through an Intergovernmental Gene Technology Agreement (IGTA), the Australian Government and the governments of all states and territories have implemented a national system to regulate gene technology. The federal Gene Technology Act 2000 (Cwlth) as amended by the Amendment Act of 2007 (Cwth) established the role of the Gene Technology Regulator and her office, the OGTR, which is responsible for assessing risks to human health and the environment from GMOs proposed for release in Australia. The OGTR website provides information on all its dealings with GMOs in Australia. Through its complementary legislation, the Gene Technology Act 2001 (Vic.) as amended by the Amendment Act of 2007 (Vic.) the Victorian Government also conferred responsibility on the OGTR for assessing GMO risks to health and the environment in this state (figure 1.1).
In making its assessments, the OGTR must account for the views of Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (see appendix 2 for an outline of their roles). Further, the Gene Technology Ministerial Council (comprising a Minister from each Australian jurisdiction) oversees the OGTR. The Council has legislative authority to issue policy principles relating to GMOs, which it has exercised in allowing states and territories to manage any risks posed to markets and trade.
In 2004, the states and territories (except Queensland and the Northern Territory) established legislation enabling the current prohibitions on commercial cultivation of OGTR approved GM canola. In Victoria, the legislation is the Control of Genetically Modified Crops Act 2004 (Vic.), which enables the Victorian Government to make Orders to regulate the commercialisation of GM crops on a case-by-case basis, on trade and economic grounds.
1.3 The 2004 Order for a moratorium in Victoria
In May 2003, the Victorian Government and the technology providers agreed on a 12-month voluntary (non-legislated) moratorium on the commercial release of OGTR-approved InVigor® and Roundup Ready® canola, to allow time for thorough examination of the potential trade implications of the commercialisation of GM canola in Victoria. During the 12 months, the Government commissioned an independent review to examine the potential trade impacts of introducing InVigor® and Roundup Ready® canola and to determine industry's ability to segregate GM canola from non-GM canola and other grains along the supply chain (ACIL Tasman and Farm Horizons 2003; Lloyd 2003).
Figure 1.1 Management of the risks associated with genetically modified canola in Australia
While considering the review recommendations and the outcomes of extensive industry and community consultations, the Victorian Government acknowledged in 2004 that the grain industry routinely handles segregated crops to ensure customer requirements. It concluded, however, that a limit on unregulated commercial release would be prudent given the uncertain agronomic benefits and unproven ability to ensure GM and non-GM canola crops could coexist. Further, some export markets had expressed sensitivities to GM crops — notably, markets for dairy products and, to some extent, grain exports to the Middle East. Both key grain marketers, AWB Limited and ABB Grain, were concerned about market risks associated with an unintended low level presence of GM canola in wheat and barley shipments. The Victorian Government considered, therefore, that the timing was not appropriate for the full commercial release of GM canola.
Consequently, on 12 May 2004, the Minister for Agriculture issued an Order under the Control of Genetically Modified Crops Act, declaring a four-year moratorium in Victoria on the commercial release of InVigor® and Roundup Ready® canola (see appendix 5 for details of the Order). The moratorium is in place until 29 February 2008, to allow further assessment of market conditions. New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory also have moratoria in place for GM food crops (see table A5.1 in appendix 5).
In addition, on 26 October 2005, the Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC), comprising ministers from the Australian Government and each state and territory, agreed in 2005 on domestic threshold levels of 0.9 per cent of GM in non-GM grain and 0.5 per cent of GM in non-GM seed for sowing.
1.4 Overview of this report
The following chapter provides details of GM canola varieties and GM crops generally. Chapter 3 describes the global, Australian and Victorian canola markets, and the structure of the grain industry in Victoria. Chapter 4 explores the possible impact on the grain supply chain and downstream industries of the introduction of GM canola. Chapter 5 describes the impacts on farming businesses, and chapter 6 includes results of a cost–benefit analysis relevant to the terms of reference. Chapters 7–9 address issues relating to the agricultural research and development environment, the longer term or indirect impact on the organic food sector and legal liability matters associated with the introduction of GM canola. Chapter 10 outlines measures that might assist the smooth introduction of this new crop technology into Victoria. Chapter 11 summarises the report and provides the Panel's recommendations.
Appendices 2 and 5 outline the existing regulatory framework governing the release of genetically modified organisms. Appendix 6 summarises research findings on the extent of the commercialisation of GM organisms in Australia and overseas, and assessments of the resulting economic, health and environmental impacts.