Gene technology and food

Find out how gene technology is used in food, how we regulate genetically modified (GM) food, and what’s involved in importing GM foods.

How gene technology is used in food

Selective breeding

Humans have been using selective breeding for thousands of years to improve food. By breeding plants and animals that have beneficial traits, we have, for example:

  • improved nutritional value
  • increased crop yields
  • reduced the need for pesticides
  • reduced water use.

But this process can take years and is not precise. Using gene technology to modify the genomes of plants and animals (under carefully controlled conditions), has the potential to provide the same results, but faster. In fact, gene technology can produce a much broader range of beneficial traits.

Genetic modification of food

We call foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) GM foods.

GM foods used in Australia

Most GM foods currently approved for food use in Australia are from GM plants. For example, soybeans with a modified fatty acid content that makes the oil better suited for frying.

Australia imports many GM foods from oversees. Most GM foods in our food supply are ingredients for processed foods like oil, flour or sugar.

See the list of approved GM foods on the FSANZ website.

GM foods grown in other countries

Overseas, scientists have modified a variety of foods for different purposes, such as:

  • improving nutritional value
  • lengthening freshness time
  • reducing food waste.

Australia imports some of these foods, but regulations apply before you can sell them in Australia.

How the scheme affects food

When scientists develop a GMO, the:

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) develop and maintain the Food Standards Code.

Learn more about the role of:

GM food regulation

FSANZ assess all GM foods intended for sale in Australia and New Zealand under the Food Standards Code. FSANZ must declare them to be safe before you can sell them in Australia.

FSANZ’s safety assessment process for GM foods is:

  • rigorous
  • transparent
  • based on internationally established scientific principles and guidelines.

Learn more about their safety assessment of GM foods.

See the list of approved GM foods on the FSANZ website.

The Food Standards Code contains mandatory labelling for GM foods so that you can tell whether a food product either:

  • contains protein or DNA that is genetically modified
  • has an altered characteristic, compared with a non-GM food.

Learn more about labelling of GM foods.

FSANZ have a range of fact sheets and videos that provide more information about GM foods.

Importing GM foods

The GM food regulations also apply to GM foods produced overseas and imported into Australia. You can only import into Australia GM foods that are approved and listed in the Food Standards Code.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is responsible for enforcing the Food Standards Code at the Australian border. Imported food must also meet biosecurity requirements to enter Australia (Biosecurity Import Conditions system).

To import GM grain, you must request permission from the OGTR.

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