Regulation of genetically modified crops in Australia

The use of genetically modified (GM) crops in Australia is regulated under a national scheme.

In 2001 the States and Territories signed the intergovernmental Gene Technology Agreement, recognising the need to ensure a consistent national scheme for the regulation of gene technology.

The Gene Technology Act 2000 (Commonwealth Act) and the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 are designed to protect the health and safety of people and the environment, by identifying risks posed by or as a result of gene technology, and to manage identified risks through regulating certain dealings with genetically modified organisms (or GMOs).

The Commonwealth Act has several key components, including:

  • establishing the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (GTR)
  • establishing advisory committees to provide expert advice to the Regulator
  • creating a process to assess risks associated with various dealings with GMOs (including opportunities for public input)
  • establishing a centralised, publicly available database of all GMOs and GM products approved in Australia. 

The Commonwealth Act also contains extensive monitoring, compliance and enforcement powers.

Each State and Territory, including Western Australia has legislation equivalent to the Commonwealth Act to ensure all dealings with GMOs are covered by the scheme.

Prior to October 2016, GM crops in WA were also regulated by the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act 2003 (GMCFAA). By an order made under this Act all of WA was designated as an area where GM crops could not be grown, except by exemption order granted by WA Minister for Agriculture and Food. Exemptions had been granted for GM canola and GM cotton, which are currently the only two crops approved by the GTR for commercial release. This legislation was based on marketing grounds and was not related to safety and health assessments.

With the support from the main grower organisations in WA (the Grains Industry Association of WA, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, WAFarmers and the Ord River District Co-operative Ltd) the Western Australian Government repealed the GMCFAA effective from 28 October 2016.

Following repeal of the GMCFAA, WA growers are now free to grow Gene Technology Regulator (GTR) licenced commercial GM crop varieties without the need for a WA exemption order.

See the Repeal of GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003 web pages for more information.

Refer to the Office of Gene Technology Regulator website for GM organisms approved for commercial release in Australia, and licencing requirements.

Contact information

Genetic Modification Policy and Regulation
Page last updated: Thursday, 16 February 2017 - 11:40am