Richard Di Natale has broken with The Greens’ policy on genetically modified crops, saying that he does not believe genetically modified crops pose a significant risk to human health. He says there is no concrete evidence on potential health harms to people.
- “The literature so far, on the issue of human health, hasn’t produced evidence of widespread and significant health harms,” he said.
“The bigger concerns are around issues of intellectual property.”
Di Natale still supports The Greens’ policy.
- He said the real problem was not the technology but the way it was applied and, as a medical practitioner, he did not have a philosophical or ideological opposition to the technology itself.
“The concerns are less around human health and much more around the application of the technology when it comes to giving farmers choice, ensuring that farmers are able to produce a non-GM product if they choose, making sure we don’t use this technology simply to drive up the use of more herbicides and pesticides, which is not good land management,” he said.
“I think that’s where this debate needs to head.”
Nevertheless, the dangers to human health as well as to animals and the ecosystem is central to The Green’s policy on “genetically manipulated organisms”.
My impression of the policy is that it sets the bar so high that no genetically modified organism would ever be approved. For example:
- Scientific evidence produced independently from the developers and proponents of the GMO must be undertaken and form the basis for assessing and licensing of GMOs. GMO assessments must be broad, independent and scientifically robust.
Ashley Ng explains how GM crops are assessed in Australia.
- Foods produced using gene technology are prohibited from sale in Australia and New Zealand unless they have undergone strenuous pre-market assessment and been approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
Fundamentally the health risk information is supplied by the applicant, the FSANZ does no testing of its own, but:
- FSANZ also uses other sources such as scientific literature, including evaluation of animal feeding studies where available, independent scientists, other regulatory bodies and importantly, the general community who can tender written submissions for currently open assessments.
In my post last year Seeking answers on GM food I went into detail on how testing is done. I believe these tests would fail the Greens’ requirements. They are not third party tests and they don’t involve human trials. Greens also want assurances that no harm is done to the environment and want to use the precautionary principle.
It’s hard to see that anything would pass. Meanwhile no such hurdles are put in the way of conventional plant breeders.
So far specific GM varieties of canola, corn, cotton, lucerne, potato, rice, soybean and sugarbeet have been approved. The Greens want these cleaned out and a moratorium established.
I keep saying that food relies on trust, which is easily broken. Public figures like Di Natale coming out may help to build trust in GM foods. Clearly commercial self-interest works in favour of keeping consumers safe.
Elsewhere The Conversation has been giving the topic considerable attention over time. They recently ran a series of articles on GM in Australia. If you look under tags such as Genetically modified crops there is plenty to go on with. So far I’ve not found any articles that question the technology, although one on ethics asks the question, because we can does it mean we should?
One article looks at why the US and Europe went different ways on GMOs. Last November half of the 28 EU countries indicated they intend to opt out of the EU’s new GM crop plan, apparently over concerns over food safety. Vivian Moses thinks that big biotech is quietly winning the war by working with those who accept the technology.
Probably penetration will continue here, The Greens notwithstanding. However, there will continue to be issues around the industry.