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Genetically modified organisms

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Ratification Date: 15 Oct 2010

Position Statement

The development and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or the use of related technologies such as gene therapy, represent a valid extension of traditional methods of genetically altering organisms in some cases.

GMOs or their products must provide community benefit.

The development and use of GMOs or their products must be subject to assessment, consultation and regulation. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) is recognised as the primary regulatory body in relation to GMOs and it must remain independent of commercial interests.

The issues of animal welfare, ethical and environmental concerns must be considered at every stage of the development and use of GMOs. In particular the development of genetically modified animals must not compromise the welfare of the animals.

Limited, phased release of genetically modified organisms should occur in restricted geographical areas with ongoing monitoring of the outcomes.

Non-living products of genetically manipulated organisms are not considered to represent such significant departures from conventional products – in terms of patterns of use or safety to people, animals or the environment – that they warrant additional regulatory assessment.

Background

GMOs, which are also known as genetically engineered or transgenic organisms, are animals, plants or micro-organisms that have had genes artificially inserted, deleted or modified. It is now possible to insert genes from any species into the genome of any other species across families, phyla and kingdoms, creating organisms that might never arise by natural reproduction, selection and evolution.

The potential benefits of GMOs are enormous and provide the driving force for much research and development. They include:

  • better human and animal health through better pharmaceuticals, vaccines, other biologicals and diagnostic tests
  • better understanding of mammalian genomes
  • improved crop and animal varieties with higher productivity in a wider range of environments or with nutraceutical properties, and
  • environmental remediation by micro-organisms tailored to break down specific contaminants.

The novelty and variety of new GMOs may bring potential risks that need to be examined – in particular, the long-term safety of human or animal food products derived from these new organisms and the eventual effect of new GMOs on the environment or ecosystem into which they are released.

The capacity to modify the genome has led to the biotechnology revolution. It has contributed to the wellbeing of humans, animals and other organisms, in a multitude of ways. These range from new and better ways of manufacturing products (hormones such as insulin, antimicrobials, vitamins), products which enhance our analytical capacity in research or disease control, through to plasmid vectors containing nuclear material. However, the level of knowledge and education in the community has not kept pace with these developments. This has resulted in a fear of the unknown, which in turn often causes outright rejection of new concepts without proper debate.

GMOs raise deep disquiet in many people because of the idea of people creating new life forms. Putting human genes into animals or animal genes into humans is particularly disturbing as it can raise questions about the nature of humanity itself.

Also of concern is the idea that some corporations may make substantial profits from the sale of patented GMOs while exposing people to potential food safety or environmental problems.

Assessment of products resulting from genetic modification must be science-based. This means that hazard identification, risk assessment and risk management principles must be applied to these biotechnologically-derived products.

Date of ratification by AVA Board 15 October 2010