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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

1 April 1999

IT'S IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE FACTS ABOUT




Increased crop yields, longer shelf life, greater tolerance to extreme climatic conditions, increased nutrient levels, reduced use of pesticides and increased resistance to transport damage are just a few of the potential benefits associated with the development of genetically modified foods.

Federal Member for Murray, Sharman Stone MP, said genetically modified foods were already on most supermarket shelves around Australia in soy based products such as margarine, oils, mayonnaise, biscuits, frozen dinners, cakes, ice cream, soups and corn chips.

Out in the field, more than 100 genetically modified food trials are going on around Australia to crops including cotton, canola, wheat, barley, peas and in small numbers apples, sugarcane, tomatoes, potatoes and pawpaw.

"The benefits of this new technology for farmers is substantial. Genetically modified organisms have the potential to offer real solutions to common agricultural problems."

"For example over half of all fruit and vegetables picked in Australia are not eaten. They either rot on the vine or supermarket shelf or are damaged in transport. Genetically modified crops have the potential to withstand damage, delay ripening and stay fresh longer. That's great news for Murray farmers," Mrs Stone said.

Scientists are also investigating the lifesaving potential of biotechnology, in particular genetically modified plants. Experiments are currently underway to produce strawberries with cancer-fighting agents and bananas containing hepatitis vaccine.

The treatment of genetically engineered food is currently high on the political agenda. The Federal Government is in the process of developing a 'Biosafety Protocol' to manage the movement of living genetically modified organisms between countries.

"One of the keys to the development of the new rules will be the protection of our own biological diversity and agriculture."

"An internationally consistent approach is also vitally important to Australia's trade interests."

It has been suggested that there may be some potential for overseas countries to use genetic engineering or product labelling related to genetic engineering as an artificial, non-tariff barrier.

In December last year, the Australian and New Zealand Health Ministers agreed to a series of new regulatory arrangements relating to the health, safety and labelling of foods produced using gene technology.

From May 13 this year, the new standard will require all foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be assessed and approved for sale.

"It is very important that we have a sensible, factual debate about the role and use of biotechnology. Sensation and fear shouldn't be allowed to cloud this very important issue," Mrs Stone said.

For further information please contact:
Nicole Johnston, Assistant Adviser, 02 6277 2016 or 0419 219 415

Commonwealth of Australia