Aims of the scheme
When scientists modify the genetic information of an organism to create a GMO, it is important to make sure that it is safe for both people and the environment.
The National Gene Technology Scheme does this through the regulatory system by:
- identifying risks related to gene technology
- managing those risks by regulating interactions with a GMO.
Regulating new technologies helps to maximise benefits while preventing harm.
Read more about how we manage potential risks to the environment and public health.
Why the scheme exists
Use and application of gene technology started in the 1970s. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s use started to increase, particularly within agriculture and cropping industries. At that time there were other Australian agencies already involved in regulating some GMOs and genetically modified (GM) products. These included:
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand – who regulate GM food
- the Therapeutic Goods Administration – who regulate human therapeutic goods
- the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority – who regulate agricultural and veterinary chemicals
- the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme – who regulate industrial chemicals
- the Department of Agriculture and Water and the Environment – who regulate biosecurity and environmental protection.
We developed the gene technology regulatory system to fill the gaps between existing legislation at the time. It provided a way to look at the specific risks of GMOs to humans and the environment, regardless of how other agencies regulated their use.
The National Gene Technology Scheme provides a framework to manage risks associated with gene technology and GMOs. It allows the Gene Technology Regulator, and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, to work in tandem with these other regulatory schemes.
Development of the scheme
Oversight of gene technology in Australia began in 1975 with a volunteer committee, replaced by other committees over time:
- 1975 – Committee on Recombinant DNA – Australian Academy of Science
- 1981 – Recombinant DNA Monitoring Committee – Department of Science
- 1987 – Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee, independent committee of scientific experts.
An absence of regulatory powers made it difficult to enforce and monitor compliance. It was clear that Australia needed a nationally consistent regulatory scheme that would:
- be able to impose penalties or other action for non-compliance
- provide a clear path to market for GM products that fell outside other regulatory schemes
- apply clear rules and standards to identifying and managing risks
- offer transparency around decisions made and consultation
- give people confidence in the control system’s effectiveness.
The Australian Government and state and territory governments collaborated to develop the national regulatory system through extensive consultations with:
- relevant government agencies
- individuals and organisations outside government
- the research and development sector
- consumer and environmental groups
- primary producers
The National Gene Technology Scheme operates under the Gene Technology Act 2000.