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Food derived using new breeding techniques - review

(February 2018)

We are reviewing how the Food Standards Code applies to food derived using new breeding techniques.

New breeding techniques (NBTs) refer to a variety of new approaches in plant and animal breeding that were not in use when Standard 1.5.2 ‒ Food produced using gene technology ‒ was first developed nearly 20 years ago.

We are consulting with the community to consider whether and how food derived from NBTs should be captured for pre-market approval under Standard 1.5.2 and whether the definitions for ‘food produced using gene technology’ and ‘gene technology’ in Standard 1.1.2─2 should be changed to improve clarity about which foods require pre-market approval.

The period for comment on our consultation paper closes 12 April 2018.        

More information

Background

In the Code, the definition of food produced using gene technology refers to the technique where new pieces of DNA are inserted into a genome to create a genetically modified organism. Since this definition was developed we have seen new techniques emerge, some of which produce results that are almost identical to conventional breeding methods such as cross-breeding and mutation breeding.

The review is expected to be completed by mid-2018, at which time we will consider whether to prepare a proposal to amend the Code.

What are the techniques?

There are a range of techniques for modifying genomes. We have grouped these techniques based on the outcomes produced in the final product:

  • Outcome one: Genome contains new DNA

Techniques such as transgenesis, cisgenesis and intragenesis involve taking a piece of DNA from one organism and inserting it into the genome of another organism. The result is a genome that contains new DNA.

  • Outcome two: Genome unchanged by gene technology

Techniques that are used to produce null-segregants involve an initial organism that has new DNA inserted into the genome (outcome 1 above). The new DNA helps with the breeding process (e.g. makes it faster) but serves no purpose once the objective of the breeding has been achieved.  Towards the end of the breeding process only organisms that have not inherited the new DNA are selected for food production purposes.

  • Outcome three: Genome changed but no new DNA (genome editing)

These techniques (e.g. CRISPR & ZFN) involve deleting a specific piece of DNA or editing of the DNA without adding new DNA.

Is this review a proposal to change the Code?

No. If at the end of the review, we determine that the Code needs to be changed, a proposal would need to be developed. Proposals involve a separate process involving further public consultation.

Expert Advisory Group

An Expert Advisory Group on New Breeding Techniques (EAG NBT) has been established to provide us with expert advice on issues relevant to the review, such as the current science relating to NBTs and potential food safety issues associated with the use of NBTs.

This advice, together with feedback received on our consultation paper and other sources such as internal expert advice and scientific literature will help inform our decision.

Members

Prof. Barbara Burlingame – Massey University, New Zealand

Dr Allan Green – CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Australia

Prof. John Knight – Otago University, New Zealand

Dr Goetz Laible – AgResearch, New Zealand

Dr Rob Lanfear – Australian National University, Australia

Prof. Dianne Nicol – University of Tasmania, Australia

Prof. Brian Priestly – Monash University, Australia

Dr Sally Symes – Victorian Dept. of Health & Human Services, Australia

Dr Mark Tizard – CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Australia

 

Glossary of terms

DNA

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary genetic material for most living organisms. DNA is present in cells in the form of a double-stranded helix that is composed of long strands of nucleotides. The unique sequence of nucleotides within the DNA molecule stores the genetic information.

 

Gene

The unit of heredity transmitted from generation to generation during sexual or asexual reproduction. More generally, the term is used in relation to the transmission and inheritance of particular identifiable traits. The simplest gene consists of a segment of nucleic acid that encodes an individual protein or RNA.

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)

Often used to describe organisms that have been modified using gene technology. In plants, GMOs commercially available include corn (field and sweet), soybeans, sugar beets, cotton, alfalfa, papaya, squash, canola and potatoes. Farmers choose to use GM seeds to reduce crop damage from weeds, diseases and insects, as well as from extreme weather conditions, such as drought.

Genome

The entirety of an organism’s hereditary information, containing all of the biological information needed to build and maintain a living example of that organism. An exact copy of the entire genome of the organism is in almost every cell.

Nucleotide

Form the basic structural unit of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA). They are composed of a phosphate group, a nitrogenous base, and a sugar (deoxyribose or ribose). For all types of living organisms, there are four types of bases in DNA: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). Thymine is replaced by Uracil (U) in RNA.

RNA

RNA or ribonucleic acid is chemically similar to DNA in that it is composed of long strands of nucleotides. Unlike DNA however it is typically present in a single stranded form. RNA plays an essential role in decoding DNA and directing the synthesis of proteins. RNA is also involved in regulating the expression of genes.

Transgenic Organism

Organisms that have had genes from other species inserted into their genome. Transgenic means that one or more DNA sequences from another species have been introduced by artificial means. Transgenic plants can be made by introducing foreign DNA into a variety of different tissues.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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