Analysis

Aus-NZ regulator paves the way for GM corn approval

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Genetically modified food

Aus-NZ regulator paves the way for GM corn approval
Having assured consumers that food derived from a genetically modified corn strain poses no health concerns, the antipodean food regulator is now calling on the public and industry to voice their opinions on whether it should be permitted for consumption in Australia and New Zealand.

Steve McCutcheon, chief executive of Food Safety Australia New Zealand (Fsanz), said the corn had been modified to be tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate, otherwise known as Roundup. It was also formulated to offer protection against western corn rootworm.

McCutcheon said Fsanz had done a safety assessment on the application and no public health and safety concerns have been identified. 

Based on the data provided and other available information, food derived from this corn is considered to be as safe for human consumption as food from conventional corn cultivars​,” he said.

Diverging views

Fsanz, which is based in Canberra, assesses genetically modified foods for both Australia and New Zealand. It has approved more than 80 variations of the main genetically engineered food lines for human consumption, and has yet to reject an application from any GM food producer. 

Under the Food Standards Code, all genetically modified food ingredients must be labelled as such, though no body currently enforces this. 

In New Zealand, there is widespread concern over the impact of increased regulatory acceptance of genetically modified foods, with Kiwi activists keen to protect their country’s perceived “100% pure​” image. Some have been accusing Australian elements in Fsanz of being too close to GM majors.

Last year, Australian scientist Peter Langridge, who has consulted to Fsanz on GM issues for many years, acknowledged that his research centre receives up to A$5m (US$4.1m) annually from DuPont, one of the world's largest GM seed companies.

New Zealand has just one voting member out of nine on the Fsanz board, with the remaining places taken by representatives from Australian states and territories. However, one of the country’s senior food regulatory officials, Deborah Roche, has backed the process up, saying Fsanz’s method of assessing GM foods on behalf of the two countries is “recognised as international best practice​”.

‘Safer than Asian imports’

In polls, over 70% of New Zealanders have supported keeping genetically modified organisms out of the country, whereas a 2012 study found almost half of Australians—and growing—felt that GM foods were safe to eat. The same report also found that consumers there were much more likely to fear the safety of Asian food imports than genetically modified ingredients.

Fsanz’s public consultation is simply an exercise to gather opinion on the subject, though given its earlier positive assessment of its safety, it is likely that the strain of modified corn will be approved. Such a decision will not pave the way for either of the countries under its mandate to start growing genetically modified food, but it is likely to spark more intense debate, especially from New Zealand, on the direction Fsanz is taking.

The closing date for submissions is 10 February 2015.

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