Ethan Nash’s open letter to Julia Gillard about GM Wheat in Australia


GMO-wheatGM Wheat in Australia. Photo: SOR

Dear PM Julia Gillard,

I am deeply concerned that the Australian Government is selling a ‘patent’ on our daily bread to foreign biotech corporations.

Genetically modified (GM) wheat has been released across five Australian states and territories, and the CSIRO says that GM bread will be on Australian supermarket shelves as soon as 2015.

I am urging you to step in and protect Australia’s food supply and stop GM wheat being grown in Australia.

Please, consider these serious risks before allowing Australia to become the first country in the world to eat GM wheat.

All of Australia’s major wheat export competitors, including North America, rejected GM wheat because of the risk it posed to their country’s billion-dollar wheat trade. Wheat is Australia’s largest export crop and contamination is inevitable if we allow GM wheat into the country, so why would we grow it here? In fact, Bayer’s .2 billion GM rice contamination scandal started from the type of small-scale field trial currently being conducted on wheat in Australia.

Since the deregulation of the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) there has been no government agency looking after the interests of Australian wheat farmers. Foreign biotech corporations cannot be trusted with control of Australia’s wheat industry.

There is also no legislation to protect individual farmers from contamination by GM wheat, or the costs imposed by the loss of important markets. One organic wheat farmer, Steve Marsh, has already lost his entire crop to GM contamination and has had no choice but to file legal action in a landmark case against his neighbour. It is completely irresponsible to introduce GM wheat to Australia when there is no legal framework to protect farmers and their communities.

GM has not been proven safe to eat. There have been no independent, long-term health studies on the impacts of eating GM. It is entirely unethical to make Australia the first place in the world to eat GM wheat and use Australian kids as guinea pigs. Wheat is a major staple food, and the risks of consuming large amounts of GM are completely unknown.

Please, stop GM wheat being grown in Australia and make sure overseas biotech companies don’t patent our daily bread.

There is no long-term, independent evidence that GM crops are safe to eat, or that it can be contained in the field. GM wheat is a risk to our health, our natural biodiversity and to farmers’ livelihoods.

I am urging you to act to keep Australian wheat safe, affordable and fair.

Yours faithfully,
Ethan Nash


Although directly intended for Julia Gillard herself, this letter was sent to a number of Australian MPs.

One of the 20+ MPs finally replied!

Dear Ethan,

Thank you for writing to me recently about genetically-modified (GM) crops, in particular GM wheat.

Australia has in place a rigorous, transparent, science-based framework for the regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and GM food which is primarily the responsibility of the Gene Technology Regulator and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) respectively. Acting in collaboration, these regulatory processes provide assurance that the health and safety of people and the protection of the Australian environment are of paramount importance.

The environmental release of any GM crop in Australia is illegal unless authorised by the Regulator. There has been no commercial release of GM wheat in Australia, nor have there been any applications for the commercial release of GM wheat submitted to the Regulator. Similarly, there has been no application submitted to FSANZ seeking approval for GM wheat in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Any future proposal to grow GM wheat commercially and for use in food in Australia would require prior approval from both the Regulator and FSANZ. Approval would be subject to a comprehensive risk assessment and would include extensive public consultation.

The Regulator has authorised a number of small-scale field trials of GM wheat for experimental research purposes only. As such, these releases of GM wheat into the environment are on a limited scale under strict controls and subject to monitoring by the Regulator. A licence to permit the intentional release of a GMO into the Australian environment is issued only if identified risks can be managed to protect human health and the environment. GM wheat from these trials is not permitted to enter the human food supply or be used in animal feed.

The Gene Technology Act 2000 confines the Regulator’s assessments to risks to human health and the environment and these do not include economic and marketing considerations. Matters such as coexistence and segregation of GM and non-GM crops in agricultural supply chains are dealt with separately by industry and state/territory governments.

For GM wheat to be permitted to be used in foods, it would need to undergo a rigorous pre-market safety assessment. The assessment would be contingent upon a comprehensive package of data needed to address relevant food safety issues applicable to a majority of the population. The methods and approach used by FSANZ to assess the safety issues are consistent with international guidelines developed according to scientific expertise provided by the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The commercial production of GM wheat is currently not permitted. Moreover, any future approval for GM wheat for commercial production or for food use would be subject to the mandatory assessment processes outlined above. Neither FSANZ nor the Regulator expects to receive an application seeking approval for commercial production or food use of GM wheat in the foreseeable future.

Thanks for taking the time to write to me about this issue.

Best wishes,

The Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP
Federal Member for Sydney.

Stay tuned for a future report about GM Wheat in Australia, discussing why the original letter was written, the effects, the practices, the implications and an analysis of the reply received.


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