Decisions about gene technology require researchers and all others involved in gene technology to assess the ethical consequences of their actions. As well as considering whether an action is scientifically or technically achievable, they must also consider whether it is ethically acceptable. The National Framework of Ethical Principles in Gene Technology 2012 (the National Framework 2012) is a set of principles which Australian scientists and researchers are expected to abide by when dealing with gene technology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) at all times. It is a means to encourage ethical conduct in gene technology – in particular where it relates to human health, the environment, genetically modified organisms and products.

The National Framework 2012 builds on the principles laid down in the National Framework for the Development of Ethical Principles in Gene Technology 2006 and draws on international and Australian ethical frameworks and community input.

The National Framework 2012 is an outcome of a review of the 2006 Framework conducted by the Gene Technology Ethics and Community Consultative Committee (GTECCC). This is a statutory advisory committee established under Section 106 of the Gene Technology Act 2000 (Cwth) to advise the Gene Technology Regulator and the Gene Technology Ministerial Council1.

The National Framework 2012 presents ten key ethical principles relating to gene technology, and to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in particular, to guide scientists and to inform the community. These principles have been prepared to shape policies and actions that arise when dealing with gene technology.

Principle 1 – Acting with integrity

Act with integrity in the search for and application of knowledge and benefits in gene technology research, both in the design of the research and having appropriate scientific qualifications to undertake the work and follow relevant codes of best scientific practice.

Principle 2 – Avoiding conflicts of interest

Declare and properly manage any conflicts of interest under the terms of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research or other relevant requirements.

Principle 3 – Maintaining records of scientific data

According to best scientific practices, maintain accurate and comprehensive records of all relevant facts and data in dealings with gene technology to the standards required by regulatory authorities, including records of all negative as well as positive results.

Principle 4 – Caring for the environment and sustainability

Conduct dealings with gene technology so as to protect the environment, including genetic diversity, organisms, species and natural ecosystems, and to promote improvements in human health and sustainable agriculture and industry.

Principle 5 – Avoiding harm to humans and animals

Minimise risks of harm or discomfort to humans and animals likely to be adversely affected by gene technology research by ensuring compliance with the gene technology legislation.

Principle 6 – Assessing long-term impacts

Conduct dealings with gene technology with regard to the impact on present and future generations, including assessment of the long-term side effects of applications of gene technology.

Principle 7 – Sharing knowledge and benefits

Respect intellectual property rights, endeavour to promote access to scientific developments and share knowledge, and ensure that the Australian community benefits from gene technology.

Principle 8 – Promoting benevolent purposes

Conduct dealings with gene technology that promote their benevolent application and discontinue dealings that involve risk outside the relevant authorisation requirements.

Principle 9 – Ensuring transparency

Conduct dealings with gene technology in a manner that ensures transparency and public scrutiny of the processes and that allows community consultation with those with a direct or potential interest.

Principle 10 – Considering responsibility beyond national borders

Ensure that dealings with gene technology do not cause damage to the environment in Australian or beyond the limits of the national jurisdiction.

1In 2011 the Gene Technology Ministerial Council became the Legislative and Governance Forum on Gene Technology.