Senator SIEWERT-I would like to ask, firstly, about the presence of novel DNA and protein in highly processed oils. I know I have asked a series of questions several times around this issue. Since I last asked, have you done any testing of food oils in Australia for the presence of novel DNA and proteins-either yourselves or with other organisations?
Dr Brent-The answer is no, we do not do testing of novel DNA and protein. What we do is we get information from a variety of scientific sources in order to do our risk assessments before we amend the food standards code and approve a GM food.
Senator SIEWERT-Okay. I am aware that we have had discussions about this before, but there is literature that does assert that DNA and proteins can survive the processing used to produce them.
Dr Brent-There is a range of literature, some of it good, some of it not so good. I think the literature that you are referring to perhaps belongs in the not-so-good category. There are some studies that show that fragments of DNA can survive in the gut, but in terms of the overall science we do not think that is an issue at all. There is no safety issue with that occurring.
Senator SIEWERT-So it is still the FSANZ position that there is no safety issue associated with highly processed oils?
Dr Brent-Yes, it is the FSANZ position-and, I think it is fair to say, it is also the overwhelming international consensus of scientific opinion amongst regulators around the world and international bodies like the WHO, FAO, Codex and OECD. So I think we are in good company.
Senator SIEWERT-In an Australian context, now that there is GE canola and in fact cotton being grown commercially in New South Wales and Victoria, have you reconsidered this concept, given that we are now likely to be producing oils that may have been contaminated with GE products?
Dr Brent-I am not quite sure I understand your question. Did you say ‘reconsider the concept'?
Senator SIEWERT-Have you looked at the possibility of contamination occurring through the increased growth of GE commercial crops in Australia?
Dr Brent-I suspect that that could be a question to ask the OGTR, if you are talking about contamination of crops growing.
Senator SIEWERT-No, I am talking about the possibility of the contamination of food.
Dr Brent-I do not think it is an issue anyway, because the crops that are growing in Australia-for example, the cotton and the canola-we have already approved for food use.
Senator SIEWERT-What about for testing? You still do not think you need to be testing oils?
Dr Brent-Testing for?
Senator SIEWERT-For the presence of novel DNA.
Dr Brent-Again, I am not sure testing of DNA is an issue for FSANZ. The enforcement of the standard is the mandate of the jurisdiction, so the state and territory health departments are the areas that enforce those standards. But I cannot think of a reason why you would go out testing for GM crops or GM foods that have already been approved. They have been approved as safe for human consumption.
Senator SIEWERT-If there is increased processing now of Australian crops into oils, there is a greater likelihood that they have been contaminated with GE. I presume you are saying that, because you believe that DNA does not survive through the processing, you do not believe that is a relevant point.
Dr Brent-I would have to clarify. Maybe I will rephrase your question. I think what you are saying is that non-GM crops could be contaminated with DNA or protein from GM. Is that the question?
Dr Brent-Again, that is possible, but I think it is more of an OGTR question.
Senator SIEWERT-Through the food supply chain, you mean?
Dr Brent-The growing of the crops, for example, is definitely an OGTR area. In the food chain, as I said, those GM events have been approved as safe for human consumption. So if they are found in non-GM oils, for example, and they are contaminating them, there is no safety issue. It is an issue, perhaps, for labelling.
Senator SIEWERT-That is an issue around labelling?
Senator SIEWERT-Have you been asked to consider that?
Dr Brent-We have not been asked to consider it. I think the labelling issue, again, is an enforcement issue. There is a labelling standard in the Food Standards Code-standard 1.5.2-and there is a section on labelling. You only have to label if you can detect DNA or protein in the final food or if there has been a significant change in the composition of the GM food. As you know, there is also a threshold for contamination. It is a one per cent threshold, so if you are below that in terms of contamination then you do not have to label it.
Senator SIEWERT-I want to move on to the issue around the genetically engineered triffid flax seed. Are you aware of that issue?
Dr Brent-I would probably have to take it on notice, unless you can explain it a little more.
Senator SIEWERT-There are concerns that cereals, bakery products and mixtures, nuts and seed products have been contaminated in 28 countries by an unapproved and untested GE flax variety, which is called CDC Triffid, from Canada. Are you aware of that issue?
Dr Brent-Senator, I would have to take it on notice. I am not aware of that issue.
Senator SIEWERT-Okay. I have a series of questions around that issue, so I will put those on notice. There is no point in me wasting time going through them if you are not aware of the issue, which is fair enough-I do not expect you to be aware of everything. I will put them on notice.
Dr Brent-Thank you.