In 2003 the Federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator approved GM canola for cultivation in Australia. It concluded that GM modified canola varieties produced by Bayer and by Monsanto posed no greater risk to human health or the environment than conventionally bred strains. However, despite the Federal approval, most State governments imposed a moratorium on GM crops pending further investigation.
Canola (formerly called rape) is grown for its seed, which is crushed to produce oil for use in margarine and cooking oils. The remaining mash is used in stock feeds. After the approval of the GM products by the Federal Government, State governments soon passed their own legislation to delay its use.
In 2003, the NSW Government enacted the Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Act 2003 imposing a moratorium on the cultivation of certain GM crops. In 2004, the Victorian Government issued an order declaring a four-year moratorium in Victoria on the commercial-scale planting of GM canola. All other states except Queensland and Northern Territory already had bans in place.
The NSW and Victorian bans were rescinded in 2008, while Western Australia approved the commercial cultivation and sale of GM canola in 2010. By 2020, around 20 per cent of the canola grown in Australia was genetically modified. South Australia continued to ban GM-modified crops until 2019 and continues the ban on Kangaroo Island. In 2019, the Tasmanian Government extended the state’s ban on GM-modified organisms until 2029.
The GM canola crop grown in Australia is resistant to glyphosate herbicides, offering potential economic gains for farmers. It can only be grown with the approval of the Gene Technology Regulator, which carries out a science-based risk assessment before the crop is approved for release.