Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is seeking public comment on its proposed approach to changing the definitions for 'food produced using gene technology' and 'gene technology'.
These definitions determine what foods are classed as genetically modified (GM) foods under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code). Currently, all GM foods permitted for sale in Australia and New Zealand must undergo a pre-market safety assessment by FSANZ and be listed in the Code.
FSANZ interim CEO Dr Sandra Cuthbert said a 2019 review found the current definitions lack clarity, are outdated and do not capture foods produced using new and emerging genetic technologies, such as new breeding techniques (NBTs) like genome editing.
“FSANZ is proposing to update the definitions to make them clearer and better able to accommodate food produced by existing, emerging and future genetic technologies.
“The proposed approach recognises some NBT foods have the same characteristics as conventional foods, which have a long history of safe use, and can therefore be regulated in a way that matches the lower risk they pose."
Updating the definitions and adopting a risk-based regulatory approach can help ensure public health and safety continues to be protected, meaningful information is provided to consumers through appropriate labelling, and products have clear and predictable pathways to market.
In the first of two rounds of public consultation, FSANZ invites interested parties to comment on its proposed approach to:
- revise and expand the process-based definition for 'gene technology' to capture all methods for genetic modification other than conventional breeding; and
- revise the definition for 'food produced using gene technology' to include specific product-based criteria for excluding certain foods from pre-market safety assessment and approval as GM food. Foods that do not meet all relevant exclusion criteria would still require an application to FSANZ.
“Our proposed approach would mean that an NBT food equivalent in its characteristics and risk to conventional food is not considered GM food for Code purposes," Dr Cuthbert said.
“GM food would continue to require pre-market safety assessment and approval under revised definitions, with approved GM food subject to mandatory labelling.
“In revising the definitions, continuing to protect public health by ensuring a safe food supply is our top priority."
Regulation of GM foods under the Code does not extend to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are separately regulated under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO Act) in New Zealand and the Gene Technology Act 2000 (GT Act) in Australia. Organisms that are GMOs would require separate regulatory assessment and approval by the Gene Technology Regulator in Australia and the Environmental Protection Authority in New Zealand.
FSANZ invites comments from interested parties on its proposed approach. The period for comment closes at 6pm (Canberra time) 03 December 2021. FSANZ will consider all submissions in finalising the proposed approach, which will then be released for a final round of comment.
All FSANZ decisions on proposals to develop or update standards are notified to the ministers responsible for food regulation in Australia and New Zealand, who can ask for a review or agree that the standard should become law.
What happens to my feedback?
Submissions will be published to our website as soon as possible after the end of the public comment period.
We will consider all feedback received through this submission process as part of our ongoing assessment of Proposal P1055.
Stakeholders will have another opportunity to comment in a second call for submissions, expected in 2022.
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