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Threat to Tasmania's GMO-free status

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 8 August 2019

Tags: GMOs, Fruit Growers

Threat to Tasmania's GMO Moratorium: O'Connor, 8 August, 2019


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: the threat to Tasmania's GMO-free status. I rise on behalf of the Greens today to speak about this matter in the spirit of bipartisanship, because I believe that the entire parliament supports the moratorium on genetically modified organisms in Tasmania and strongly supports the extension of the moratorium to 10 years as part of our unending support for Tasmania's primary producers, reliant as they are on our clean, green brand and our GM-free status.

We are raising this issue today because we want some clarification from the minister on the implications for Tasmania's GM moratorium of the Commonwealth position around the gene technology regulations as they relate to SDN-1 organisms, because our concern is that it will be a moratorium in name only if SDN-1-manipulated organisms come into Tasmania's production systems. The moratorium imposed under the Tasmanian Genetically Modified Organisms Control Act 2004 is only possible under provisions in the Gene Technology Act 2000 of the Commonwealth. Federal law classifies what is and is not classified as a genetically modified organism.

The declassification of SDN-1-modified organisms as GMOs in the federal Gene Technology Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Regulations will mean that the state moratorium will no longer capture these gene-edited organisms.

Site directed nuclease, or SDN, techniques introduce editing to a genome by inserting a double-strand break. When this break is repaired by allowing the cell to self-repair, it is classified as SDN1. SDN-1 techniques include zinc finger nucleases (ZFN), transcription activator-like effect nucleases (TALENs) and the more commonly known clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats using the Cas9 enzyme (CRISPR-Cas9). SDN-1 techniques induce mutation through the host cell’s natural repair mechanisms. The argument put forward by proponents of deregulation is that because this is the same processes as natural mutation, it poses no additional risk compared to non-GM organisms. The problem, however, is that the technology can have off-target effects. Off-target cuts, for example, can occur in locations that disrupt essential cellular functions. Aside from off-target effects it is unknown in many cases whether or not the enzymes, such as Cas9, used in SDN-1 techniques have persisting effect. In some cases, persistence effects have been observed, for example the crossing of nuclease and guide RNA can result in unintended genetic modification in offspring.

We would like the minister when he gets to his feet to go to the question of the federal plan to remove SDN-1 genetic engineering from the list of GMOs which means that organisms modified with that technique will not be able to be captured by our moratorium. Many respected geneticists report observations that SDN-1 techniques can cause off-target or unexpected mutations. The SDN1 techniques are clearly genetic engineering or manipulation and many other countries have classified them as genetically modified organisms.

We would like to know on behalf of Tasmania's primary producers and everyone who relies on our clean, green, GM-free status whether the minister agrees that what is happening at a federal level is putting Tasmania's moratorium at risk. We cannot see that it is doing anything but that. When we received our briefing on the biosecurity bill we sought advice from the minister's officers on whether the bill could be used to restrict SDN-1-edited organisms. The advice we got, and I do not want to verbal them, was that this may be an option. Perhaps the minister could go to that question about whether we have the capacity under the Biosecurity Act, which has now come back to the House, to protect the moratorium.

Mr Barnett - It has passed with no amendment.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well done and well noted, minister.

We would like to know if you have sought advice on the options that may be available to keep SDN-1-edited organisms out of Tasmania, including the possible application of the Biosecurity Act 2019. On 1 August this year, our Australian Greens Senator, Janet Rice, tabled a disallowance motion to disallow Gene Technology Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Regulations which would declassify SDN-1 genetic engineering techniques. Minister, it is our understanding that Tasmania was the only state to vote against the declassification of SDN-1 genetic engineering techniques. Are you able to confirm that, and will you be asking your Tasmanian Liberal colleagues in the Senate to back up the stance you took to the legislative and governance forum on gene technology by supporting Senator Rice's disallowance motion?

We believe this is an issue on which there should be a unity ticket out of Tasmania. The Tasmanian Senate team of all persuasions - Liberal, Labor, Greens and Senator Lambie - as well as every member of the House of Representatives should be advocating to protect Tasmania's GMfree status, and we believe that it does not matter what party you come from. In the Senate there is a disallowance motion which we cannot bring forward unless we have the support of Labor Senators, but we should also have the support of Tasmanian Liberal Senators. There is no question that the decision not to classify SDN-1 organisms as GM organisms will impact on our GM-free status. I unfortunately get the feeling that we have had the moratorium extended to 10 years in order to try to deflect from what is a very clear and present risk to our GM-free status.

Perhaps the minister could address the questions I have put to him in the interests of tripartisanship and also make a commitment to the House that he will advocate to his federal colleagues to support the Greens' disallowance motion.



Mr BARNETT (Lyons - Minister for Primary Industries) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I am pleased to contribute on behalf of the Hodgman majority Liberal Government with respect to our GMO policy, including the new gene techniques referred to in the member for Clark and Leader for the Greens' contribution. I am pleased, honoured and delighted to have made the announcement yesterday to extend the moratorium for 10 years for our Government. It will provide certainty and confidence to Tasmanian businesses, agriculture and agribusiness in particular. The feedback has been very encouraging.

This is all part of our Government's plan to increase our agricultural output to $10 billion by 2050. We have seen very good statistics coming from the dairy sector, with an increase in exports of some 48 per cent. We see an increase in agricultural production by 9 per cent in the last available statistics, which is very encouraging and tells us we are on track. There is also the very good news received a few moments ago that the Biosecurity Bill has passed through the upper House without any amendments. It supports exactly the legislation we put through this place. I thank all members of parliament, upper House and lower House, and stakeholders across the community for their terrific support. I met with Wine Tasmania this morning with respect to the Biosecurity Bill.

Ms O'Connor - Perhaps, minister, you could address some of the issues I raised.

Mr BARNETT - Absolutely. I met with Wine Tasmania, Salmonid Growers' Association, and Fruit Growers Tasmania and they are very grateful and pleased with that bill. With respect to GMO, we have received terrific support for the decision we have made to extend the moratorium for 10 years toward building that confidence. Stuart Burgess, CEO of Fruit Growers Tasmania, said in correspondence to me that -

Fruit Growers Tasmania would like to congratulate the Government on the announcement of the extension of the GMO moratorium in Tasmania for a further 10 years. This approach provides certainty for our export-facing producers who tirelessly invest in the development of exports of our exceptional premium Tasmanian produce.

We believe this announcement further enhances our worldleading, ultra-premium Tasmanian brand. Peter Skillern, CEO of TFGA, said in the media release yesterday - 'The TFGA welcome the news that Tasmania GMO moratorium would be extended another 10 years.'. Greenham, the beef processor, is very supportive. Sheralee Davies, CEO of Wine Tasmania, has indicated strong support on behalf of her sector. I have communicated with Lindsey Bourke from the Beekeepers Association and they are very supportive. We have extended that.

There will be a change to our gene technology policy and guidelines. They will be updated on that detail. I will be bringing a bill to this House in the not too distant future. I have indicated there will be regular reviews of the developments in gene technology, markets and consumer sentiment, which can trigger an earlier review of the policy, should developments warrant it.

Under the national gene technology scheme, Tasmania regulates our GMO moratorium for marketing purposes. People know that and it is on the public record. Other aspects of gene technology are regulated by the Australian Government, including human health safety and environment impacts. One of the issues, as has been raised by the honourable member, will come into effect later this year; our amendments to the federal Gene Technology Regulations. This followed a review of the federal Gene Technology Regulator to clarify the status of organisms developed using certain new gene editing techniques such as SDN1. My advice with respect to that technique is that it will not be regulated as a GMO on the basis that organisms modified using this technique pose the same risk as and are indistinguishable from organisms carrying naturally occurring genetic changes.

We have always advocated for Tasmania interests in maintaining our brand and our markets and that will continue. I am advised the Commonwealth changes to the regulations will commence in three phases from October this year. The federal regulation in no way impacts on Tasmania's ability to have a moratorium on GMOs and that is really important. We have and will continue to work with our exporters and other stakeholders to address any potential market implications as they arise. I have taken advice with respect to the implications and I am looking at all options in advancing Tasmania's interest to ensure we stay ahead of the pack and Tasmania is put first in all of these respects. I ask the Greens, please, do not scaremonger. Please, do not be wreckers. My concern is that the Greens, with what they are up to, could scare the markets and express a view to the markets. We want to ensure Tasmania is number one and we want to advance Tasmania's interests. I do not want to message coming through from here that there is some concern.

The changes to the federal regulations clarifying the status of certain gene editing techniques in no way impacts on Tasmania's ability to have a moratorium on GMOs. Let us make that very clear. That should be made clear by the Greens and anybody else in this parliament. We strongly advocate for Tasmania's interests in maintain our brand and market and will continue to do so. We are still consulting with the industry about this. We will continue to work with the exporters and stakeholders to make sure their interests are protected, preserved and supported. You can be assured of that and, as minister, I give you that commitment.

I would like to hear Labor's position. We know they have one policy but we would like them to make it very clear, what is their policy with respect to GMOs? We have heard high-level support but I would like to think a comprehensive view will be expressed by the Labor Opposition in adopting the Government's policy position. It is based on research. It is based on advice. It is based on the feedback that was overwhelmingly in support of a GMO-free state and we have made that decision for a 10-year moratorium.