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Food derived using new breeding techniques - review

​(April 2020)

We have been reviewing how the Food Standards Code applies to food derived using new breeding techniques (NBTs).

NBTs are 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.

Since early 2018 we have been consulting with the key stakeholders and the community to look at 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.

In February 2018 we released a consultation paper on NBTs. Feedback on the consultation showed there are diverse views in the community about the safety and regulation of food derived from NBTs, but most agreed the current definitions are no longer fit for purpose and lack clarity

In December 2019 we released our Final Report which made three recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: FSANZ prepare a proposal to revise and modernise the definitions in the Code to make them clearer and better able to accommodate existing and emerging genetic technologies.
  • Recommendation 2: As part of the proposal, FSANZ give consideration to process and non-process based definitions and the need to ensure that NBT foods are regulated in a manner that is commensurate with the risk they pose.
  • Recommendation 3: Throughout the proposal process FSANZ will ensure there is open communication and active engagement with all interested parties and also explore ways to raise awareness about GM and NBT foods.

Next steps

A new Proposal to amend the definitions in the Code commenced in February 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic FSANZ has postponed the release of the first call for submissions for public consultation until later in the year.

Regular updates about the Proposal, including the expected timetable and consultation opportunities, will be provided through the food standards development Work Plan, as well as through the Proposal webpage.

Have any changes been made to the Food Standards Code as a result of this review?

No changes have been made to the Code (including labelling requirements for GM food) as a result of this review. Current pre-market approval and labelling requirements continue to apply.

More information

Expert Advisory Group

An Expert Advisory Group on New Breeding Techniques (EAG NBT) was 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 has helped inform the recommendations in our Final Report.

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

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Questions and answers:

What is genetically modified food?

Genetically modified food is food that is derived from an organism (plant, animal or microbe) whose genetic material (DNA) has been changed using modern genetic modification techniques. The techniques are usually called 'gene technology', 'genetic engineering' or 'recombinant DNA techniques'. Organisms modified in this way are called genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

What are NBT foods?

NBT foods are foods that are derived using the latest set of techniques for altering the genetic makeup of plants and animals. Some of the new techniques are different to the gene technology methods that have been used to transfer genetic material between organisms. For example, genome editing is a NBT that is used to “edit" (remove or re-write) the existing genetic material of a plant or animal. These types of “edits" can also be made using a conventional breeding method called mutagenesis, but genome editing is more targeted, giving a level of control that has not been possible before now.

NBT foods are at an early stage of development and there are no NBT foods in the food supply in Australia and New Zealand and only one example of a NBT food that has been commercialised overseas (a genome edited high oleic acid soybean).

How common are GM foods?

GM foods are not as common as you might think. There are no fresh whole GM fruit or GM vegetables in the food supply in Australia or New Zealand.

The majority of GM foods in Australia and New Zealand are from GM crops grown overseas. Various food ingredients from these crops (e.g. oil, flour, sugar) are used in processed foods, some of which are imported into Australia and New Zealand. Foods derived from these GM crops must be approved and listed in the Code before they can be imported here. Imported food that contains GM ingredients must also comply with the GM labelling requirements (see below).

Only three GM crops (canola, cotton and safflower) are approved for growing in Australia (by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator). No GM crops have been approved for growing in New Zealand.

Is GM food safe to eat?

If a GM food has been approved it means it is safe to eat. This is because all GM foods must undergo a safety assessment by FSANZ before they can be approved. This assessment allows FSANZ to ensure GM foods are as safe as other foods already in the food supply.

Read more about our safety assessments of GM foods.

How can I tell which foods are genetically modified?

Approved foods for sale that are GM or contain GM ingredients must be labelled with the statement 'genetically modified'.  On packaged food this statement would appear next to the name of the food or next to the specific GM ingredient in the ingredient list.

If the food is unpackaged, the information must accompany the food or be displayed with the food.  The labelling requirement applies to food produced in, or imported into, Australia and New Zealand.

Certain GM foods or ingredients are exempt from labelling.  For example, GM flavourings that are present in food in a concentration of no more than 0.1% are exempt from the labelling requirement. 

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.

 

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