Biotechnology is a powerful enabling technology that has the potential to revolutionise many industries, including agriculture. Biotechnology offers benefits for farmers, the food manufacturing industry, consumers and the community; and the department supports the development and use of biotechnology that has been assessed as safe.
Biotechnology and agriculture in Australia: policy snapshot
The Biotechnology and agriculture in Australia: policy snapshot document (the snapshot) examines the benefits of biotechnology and its potential contribution to innovation in the Australian agricultural sector.
The document provides a high-level snapshot of the department’s policy for biotechnology.
Regulatory Framework in Australia
The development and use of genetically modified (GM) organisms in Australia is regulated through an integrated framework that includes the Gene Technology Act 2000 and corresponding state and territory legislation. The object of the Act is to protect the health and safety of people and to protect the environment by identifying risks posed by or results from gene technology. Economic and marketing considerations such as coexistence and segregation in agricultural supply chains are addressed through state-specific requirements or industry protocols. Decisions on whether to allow GM crop production in part or all of a state or territory are a matter for that jurisdiction.
For further information see Regulatory Framework of GM in Australia.
GM crops in Australia
The worldwide adoption of GM crops has rapidly increased every year since their introduction in 1995, including in Australia.
GM crops approved for commercial release in Australia by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator are cotton and canola. The GM cotton varieties have been modified to be resistant to certain pests and/or herbicides and the GM canola varieties are herbicide resistant.
GM canola was grown commercially for the first time in 2008 after Victoria and New South Wales lifted their moratoria on GM canola. Western Australia allowed the commercial planting of GM canola from the 2010 season.
ABARES estimates that, Australia wide, 175 000 hectares of GM canola were planted in 2012-13 (8.2 per cent of total canola plantings), up from 164 000 hectares (9.5 per cent) in 2011–12GM cotton has been grown in Australia since 1996 and now makes up around 95 per cent of Australia’s cotton crop.
Decisions on whether to allow GM crop production in part or all of a state or territory are a matter for that jurisdiction. In 2003 the regulator issued commercial release licences after assessing two applications for GM canola (‘InVigor’ and ‘Roundup Ready’ canola). All state and territory governments, except Queensland and the Northern Territory, subsequently enacted moratorium legislation to delay the commercial release of GM canola until marketing considerations had been addressed. Independent reviews of the Victorian and New South Wales moratoria in 2007 found that earlier concerns about market access, economic impact and segregation had largely been resolved since the moratoria were first put in place, and GM canola could now be produced commercially in those states. Following a commercial trial of GM canola in 2009, the Western Australian (WA) Government announced in January 2010 that GM canola could be grown on a commercial scale in WA from 2010 onwards.
Tasmania has a moratorium on the commercial release of GMOs until 2014. South Australia’s moratorium on GM food crops will continue until at least 2019.
Segregation and coexistence
Segregation and coexistence, along with other marketing and economic considerations, are managed through state specific regulations and industry protocols.
The industry recognises that supply chain participants, including farmers, will make their own choices about methods of production (whether to operate under organic principles or to grow conventional or GM crops).
The canola industry has developed a framework for managing market choice.
International trade in agricultural biotechnologies
Australia participates in multilateral efforts to promote the application of science–based, transparent and predictable regulatory approaches that foster innovation and ensure a safe and reliable global food supply, including the cultivation and use of agricultural products derived from innovative technologies.
As part of this work, Australia has endorsed a joint statement on innovative agricultural production technologies, particularly plant biotechnologies.
Australia has also endorsed an international statement on low level presence of GMOs.
GM Wheat Trials
The department received a Freedom of Information Act 1982 request (FOI 2011/12-25) seeking access to documents relating to genetically modified wheat trials in Australia. The applicant has been advised that some of the documentation sought has been released with exemptions.
The information released under the FOI Act is below:
- Supplementary senate estimates brief May 2011 — GM crops and food PDF [421 KB]
- Divisional brief — GM canola in Australia and marketing issues PDF [172 KB]
- Question time brief — GM crops in Australia (30 September 2011) PDF [243 KB]
- Question time brief — GM crops in Australia (25 August 2011) PDF [187 KB]
- Question time brief — GM wheat field trials (7 July 2011) PDF [97 KB]
- Question time brief — GM wheat field trials (14 July 2011) PDF [98 KB]
- GM crops in Australia (22 September 2010) PDF [164 KB]
- Background brief — Australia's GM policy on wheat and sugar PDF [106 KB]
- Question time brief — GM crops in Australia (25 August 2011) PDF [122 KB]
- Question time brief — GM wheat field trials (27 October 2010) PDF [138 KB]
- Question time brief — GM wheat field trials (18 October 2010) PDF [108 KB]
- Brief — GM crops in Australia (22 September 2010) PDF [154 KB]
- Brief — GM wheat and sugar in Australia (June 2011) PDF [152 KB]
- Brief — GM wheat and sugar in Australia (5 May 2011) PDF [132 KB]
- Brief — GM wheat and sugar in Australia (4 July 2011) PDF [149 KB]
- Brief — GM wheat and sugar in Australia (4 February 2011) PDF [131 KB]
- Background brief — GM wheat and sugar in Australia (16 April 2010) PDF [73 KB]
- Key estimates brief — GM crops and food (February 2011) PDF [110 KB]
- Key issue brief — GM wheat (October 2011) PDF [106 KB]
- Brief — GM wheat and sugar in Australia PDF [29 KB]
- Brief — meeting with Greenpeace (3 November 2010) PDF [209 KB]
- Departmental response — GM wheat PDF [71 KB]
- Supplementary senate estimates brief February 2011 — GM crops and food PDF [390 KB]
- Supplementary senate estimates brief October 2010 — GM crops and food PDF [303 KB]
- Supplementary senate estimates brief October 2011 — GM crops and food PDF [469 KB]
- Email correspondence — GM wheat PDF [43 KB]
- Email correspondence — Wheat exports to New Caledonia PDF [76 KB]
There are a number of reports, articles and factsheets relating to biotechnology in Australia and overseas.
View the reports and articles.
Further information on biotechnology may be accessed through useful links.
Copies of fact sheets and reports can be requested from:
Research and Development and Food Security
Agricultural Policy Division
Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601