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Fact Sheet - GM wheat field trial approvals

May 2012

Regulation of gene technology in Australia

All dealings with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are regulated under the Gene Technology Act 20001.

The intentional release of a GMO into the Australian environment must be licensed by the Gene Technology Regulator (the Regulator), and can only be licensed if risks can be managed so as to protect the health and safety of people and the environment. The Australian regulatory scheme uses a science-based approach and robust risk analysis. The risk analysis methodology2 is based on key international standards and is widely respected internationally.

Trade and marketing issues are not part of the Regulator’s consideration; these are matters for state and territory governments and industry.

GM wheat

There has been no commercial release of GM wheat in Australia, and no licence applications for the commercial release of GM wheat have been received.

Since 2005, the Regulator has issued thirteen licences for small field trials of GM wheat. Eleven of these licences are still current (see table 1). Licences authorising intentional release of GMOs into the environment are only issued after conducting a rigorous science-based risk assessment and extensive public and expert consultation for each3.

These field trials relate to early stage research on GM wheat with traits such as salt tolerance, drought tolerance, altered starch content or improved nutrient use efficiency. Details of the locations of these trials are publically available on the OGTR website4.

Each field trial is limited in size and duration, ranging in size from 0.1 to 2.3 hectares per year for up to 5 years. The trials are subject to strict containment conditions to manage the potential for spread and persistence of the GM wheat and the introduced genes in the environment. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) actively inspects trials for compliance with licence conditions. There have been no breaches of containment with any of these field trials.

GM wheat from these trials is not permitted to enter the commercial human food or animal feed supplies.

However, three licences held by CSIRO authorise animal nutritional studies (DIR 092, DIR 093 and DIR 111); two of these also authorise experimental human nutritional studies (DIR 093 and DIR 111). These studies are also subject to approval by animal- and human- ethics committees, and will use products made from GM wheat with altered grain composition aimed at improving nutritional properties such as glycemic index.

Table 1 Current Licences for limited and controlled release (field trial) of GM wheat

Licence No Licence holder Modified Trait Issued Field trial site status*
DIR 112 CSIRO Altered grain composition & nutrient utilisation efficiency March 2012 not planted
DIR 111 CSIRO Altered grain composition, nutrient utilisation efficiency, disease resistance or stress tolerance February 2012 not planted
DIR 102 University of Adelaide Abiotic stress tolerance June 2010 3 in PHM
DIR 100 CSIRO Enhanced carbon assimilation in drought and heat prone environments June 2010 not planted
DIR 099 CSIRO Altered grain composition & nutrient utilisation efficiency June 2010 3 in PHM
DIR 094 CSIRO Enhanced nutrient utilisation efficiency July 2009 2 in PHM
1 signed off
DIR 093 CSIRO Grain starch composition June 2009 2 in PHM
1 signed off
DIR 092 CSIRO Grain protein or carbohydrate composition May 2009 1 in PHM
1 signed off
DIR 080/2007 Victorian Department of Primary Industries Drought tolerance June 2008 2 signed off
DIR 077/2007 The University of Adelaide Enhanced tolerance to abiotic stressors, including soil boron and drought, and increased beta glucan levels June 2008 1 signed off
DIR071/2006 Victorian Department of Primary Industries Drought tolerance June 2007 2 signed off

*A field trial site may be: not planted (as at 26 April 2012, the licence holder had not planted any GM wheat under the licence); current (ie the GM crop is being grown and/or harvested); PHM = in post-harvest monitoring stage (ie the GM crop is no longer being grown but the licence holder is monitoring the site to ensure no GM plants remain); or signed off (ie the Regulator has determined that post-harvest monitoring is no longer required for a particular trial site).

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1 For more information, see the Fact Sheet Overview of the Gene Technology Regulatory System

2For more information, see the Regulators’ Risk Analysis Framework, available on the OGTR website

3All of the assessments and licences are available on the OGTR website. Also see the Fact Sheet Application assessment process for dealings involving intentional release (DIR) of a GMO into the environment

4See the field trial site map page on the OGTR website