Information on genetically modified organisms

Page last updated: Tuesday, 13 August 2019 - 3:58pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Genetic modification (GM) is the use of modern biotechnology techniques to change the genes of an organism, such as a plant or animal. Their use is highly regulated in Australia.

In Australia, no one may ‘deal’ with a genetically modified organism (GMO) unless the Australian Gene Technology Regulator has concluded that the GMO is safe to human health and the environment.

Genetically modified crops

As the world’s demand for food continues to increase plant breeders work to breed better yielding crop varieties. They use a range of methods including conventional breeding, mutagenesis, genetic modification, gene editing and marker aided selection to breed new improved crop varieties. Genetic modification allows plant breeders to produce a crop variety with specific characteristics that could not be bred using conventional breeding.

Genetically modified crops are playing an increasingly important role in farming systems around the world. Their adoption globally continues and it is estimated that 189.8 million hectares of GM crops were grown during 2017.

Three GM crops are grown commercially in Australia with the following characteristics:

  • GM cotton - insect resistant and herbicide tolerant
  • GM canola - herbicide tolerant and high omega-3 oil content
  • GM safflower - super high oleic acid.

Note: GM cotton and GM canola are tolerant to herbicides glyphosate and or glufosinate.

Genetic modification and medicinal products/vaccines

GM is widely used to make human medicines such as insuline to control blood sugar levels and vaccines such as as Gardasil to prevent human papillomavirus.

It is also used to make vaccines for animals such as Hendra vaccine for horses to prevent them from Hendra virus infections.  

Useful websites

The Australian regulatory system for GMOs

In Australia, GMOs are regulated to protect the health and safety of people, and to protect the environment, by identifying and managing risks posed by or as a result of gene technology.

GM crops in Australia

  • Cotton Australia is the main body representing the Australian cotton growing industry.
  • Grain Trade Australia facilitates the efficient trade of Australian grain by standardising grain standards, trade rules and grain contracts across the Australian grain supply chain.
  •  The Australian Oilseed Federation promotes the development, expansion and improvement of Australian oilseed production.

GM crops world-wide

Science-based information on GM crops

  • The Australian Biotechnology Council of Australia website provides science-based information about gene technology in agriculture.
  • The Google Scholar search engine provides access to peer-reviewed articles on all topics including GM. 
    Peer-reviewed articles have been read by several scholars in the same field and the scholars have decided the experiments and conclusions meet scientific standards and the publication is suitable for publication.

Contact information

Genetic Modification Policy and Regulation