Open letter to Parliament: gene editing deregulation undermines brand Australia.

I am writing to express in the strongest terms possible OBE Organic’s opposition to plans to deregulate the gene editing SDN1 and CRISPR – CAS9 technology in Australia from 8 October.

I am sure you have received many representations from all agricultural sectors on this incredibly important issue so I will not repeat technical details.

I would simply like to remind you of the core consequence of this change: the complete erosion of a fundamental attribute in Australia’s ambitions to be the world’s choice for clean, safe, premium food.

Every single one of the long term strategic plans being developed by agriculture, from the NFF’s 2030 Roadmap to strategic plans for separate industries, aim to move Australian agricultural produce from a commodity to a premium product that is sought after by global consumers.

Consumers do not associate premium products with genetic modification.

If consumers perceive CRISPR technologies to be genetic modification – and we all know they certainly do – the reputation of Australia as a clean and safe producer will be irreversibly damaged.

Or as Austrade’s critical Australia’s Nation Brand project says, “Australia’s Nation Brand will be used to talk about the uniqueness of our exports…”.  There is nothing unique or desirable about unregulated genetic modification.

As Australia’s oldest organic beef marketing company, OBE Organic would, like other organic companies be impacted immediately by the deregulation of GMOs.  This is because organic certification requires, and implies, GMO-free.  The industry attracts a premium for this claim because it’s what consumers are willing to pay for.

It will not take long though, for conventional producers aiming to market a premium product, to be similarly impacted.  Their ability – and by extension the ability of the entire Australian agriculture industry – to attract a premium for their produce – will be that much harder if it can’t be guaranteed to be GMO-free.

In addition, removing the requirement for labelling and traceability of certain GMOs will almost certainly provide the basis for a simple non-tariff barrier in the future.

If your strategy is for Australian agriculture to compete as a commodity on volume and price, then by all means deregulate gene editing technology.  But if you support the ambition of Australian agriculture and Australia’s Nation Brand to be premium and unique, I implore you to:

  1. Immediately block Gene Technology Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Regulations 2019;12 by withdrawing the legislation, voting against, or disallowing it
  2. Agree to no deregulation of any new GMO technology until they are accepted by all Australia’s premium agricultural export markets.

 

Dalene Wray

Managing Director