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Release Of Safety Assesment Reports On GM Foods


Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator the Hon. Grant Tambling


Ladies and gentlemen: Welcome to Parliament House.

We are here today because we are all stakeholders in the work of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority – ANZFA - and because we have a special interest in food safety, particularly the safety of genetically modified or GM foods.

We are all aware of the GM debate swirling around us.

Most of the debate seems to revolve around GM crops, field trials and environmental matters – that is, more about the paddock than the plate.

But, with a decision expected at the end of July by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council on a labelling regime for GM foods sold in the two countries, food will no doubt become flavour of the month.

ANZFA’s role in this debate is to operate a safety assessment process for GM foods and to make sure that industry, special interest groups and consumers are aware of the integrity of the process.

The Howard Government has been impressed with the quiet but effective way that ANZFA has safeguarded the standards of the nation’s food supply to date and its approach to GM food safety.

Australians and New Zealanders rarely have any valid basis for questioning the safety of foods on the supermarket shelves for human consumption.

This protection comes from continual attention to standards in the Food Standards Code and the compliance activities of State and Territory governments.

Every so often, however, community attention is drawn to the safety of foods – usually as a result of a product re-call or when an advance like biotechnology is adopted by the industry.

You will be aware that we announced in last month’s Budget that ANZFA will receive an additional $26.

1 million, available over four years, to continue its role of managing current and emerging food regulatory issues.

In particular, the Government has identified as priorities: · the development of uniform national food safety standards; · an emerging range of “novel foods” – that is, non-traditional foods; and · foods produced using biotechnology.

These are additional to other major tasks, including the finalisation of the proposed joint Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

The Government has also announced the establishment of a Taskforce to examine whether public health and safety regulation could be better coordinated across Federal agencies.

At present, issues associated with food, medicines, chemicals and gene technology regulation are spread over some 11 agencies – this may not be the most effective way of delivering health and safety measures for all Australians.

Even if it is, there must be scope for closer coordination and sharing of scarce scientific skills and scientific data and findings.

This, then, is the context in which I am pleased and proud to launch the booklet GM foods and the consumer.

For the first time, ANZFA has pulled together in the one public document the complex and rigorous assessment process used by its scientists to evaluate the safety of GM foods.

In a moment, the chairman of the ANZFA Board, Michael Mackellar, will be releasing a batch of safety assessment reports on GM foods for public comment.

This booklet describes that safety assessment process.

It has been prepared to help people understand the content of the reports and to find their way through them.

GM foods and the consumer is pitched at both the general reader who wants a better understanding and the reader who has a professional or special interest in GM food safety matters.

You don’t need to be a scientist to read this booklet.

The first part, especially, gives an overview of the safety assessment process in relatively simple terms.

The second part goes into the process in more detail and provides a case study of how the process works.

I believe this publication will go a long way to demystifying the work of ANZFA in determining the safety of GM foods and it should give consumers in Australia and New Zealand every confidence that their interests are in capable hands.

It is worth noting that an OECD scientific conference on GM foods in Edinburgh earlier this year concluded that: · “many consumers already eat GM foods, though they do not necessarily know they are doing so.

No peer-reviewed article has yet appeared which reports adverse effects on human health as a consequence of eating GM food”.

The 400 delegates at the conference, from 40 countries, also highlighted some areas for improvements, such as the phasing out of antibiotic resistance genes in GM food crops and the role of labelling in giving the consumer choice.

So, although the world concensus is that the currently available GM foods do not present a greater risk to public health than conventionally produced foods, caution is still the catchword.

ANZFA plays a significant role in these international discussions and protocols.

Its scientists must maintain a watching brief on new procedures and techniques in molecular biology that can be applied to the safety assessments.

This booklet may therefore need updating in a year or two to incorporate changes to the safety assessment process.

GM foods and the consumer will, I believe, become the document of first reference in explaining the ANZFA safety assessment process for GM foods.

In its preparation, the booklet underwent critical review from a number of external experts.

One of these reviewers – from the united states – commented: · “…allow me to congratulate ANZFA on the preparation of a wonderful document.

I think this document will be very helpful to consumers in both countries and may serve as a model for the development of similar documents around the world”.

High praise indeed! However, I should quickly add that this particular reviewer then proceeded to supply three pages of suggestions for improvement which have been considered and incoporated where appropriate.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all the experts who reviewed the booklet, to ANZFA’s GM team who collected the body of knowledge and to staff at ANZFA who volunteered to check its readability.

Finally, I must publicly congratulate the author of GM foods and the consumer, Dr Wendy Odgers, on an excellent job and ANZFA’s Chief Scientist, Dr Marion Healy, for her oversight and scientific input at crucial stages of the project.

Please make sure you take a copy of the booklet with you when you leave.

Additional copies can be obtained by contacting ANZFA or, alternatively, it can be downloaded from the ANZFA website.

I commend GM foods and the consumer to you all.


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