Genetically Modified Crops

Genetically Modified (GM) crops are playing an increasingly important role in farming systems around the world. Their adoption globally continues at unprecedented rates and it is estimated that 170.3 million hectares of GM crops were grown during 2012. This is an annual growth rate of six per cent, up 10.3 million from 160 million hectares in 2011. In Western Australia, GM cotton and GM canola have been commercially planted since 2008 and 2010 respectively.

Australian GM Crop legislation

The use of GM crops in Australia is regulated under a national scheme detailed in the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000, the Gene Technology Regulations and the the corresponding legislation of the States and Territories. The Australian Act established the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and appointed the Gene Technology Regulator  to make decisions under the legislation.

The object of the national scheme is to “protect the health and safety of people, and to protect the environment, by identifying risks posed by or as a result of gene technology, and managing those risks  by imposing conditions on the licences required for dealings with GM organisms (GMOs).”


Western Australian GM Crop legislation

The Western Australian Gene Technology Act 2006 and the GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003 are the Western Australian components of the national scheme. Since 2004, under the GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003 there has been a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM crops in Western Australia. Under this legislation the Western Australian Minister for Agriculture and Food has powers to grant exemption orders to allow commercial cultivation of specified GM crops in specified areas of Western Australia.

Commercialisation of GM Crops

GM Cotton

In 2002, the OGTR issued the first licence for the commercial release of GM cotton in Australia. Since then the OGTR has issued six licences for the commercial release of different varieties of herbicide tolerant or insect resistant or combined herbicide tolerant and insect resistant GM cotton.

There is almost 99.5 per cent uptake of GM cotton varieties by cotton growers in Australia. The 2010/11 season resulted in  597,000 hectares of GM cotton varieties planted with 95 per cent of those varieties were stacked traits for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.

In 2008, Minister Redman issued an exemption order to permit the commercial cultivation of GM cotton in the Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA) in Western Australia. In the 2011 season, growers planted 700 hectares of GM Cotton in the ORIA and since this time the loss of access to a cotton gin has meant the no GM cotton was planted in the ORIA in 2012.

GM Canola

Between 2003 and 2007, the Australian Grains Industry worked to develop and adopt protocols and processes to effectively deliver market choice. In 2007 major canola industry stakeholders announced the industry was ready to effectively segregate different marketing standards of canola through the supply chain.

Since 2003, the OGTR has issued three commercial release licenses for herbicide tolerant GM canola. GM Canola has been planted in New South Wales and Victoria since 2008 with a rapid uptake by many growers.

 In 2010, Minister Redman issued an exemption order to permit commercial planting of GM canola in WA. 317 growers chose to plant around 72,000 hectares of GM canola.  In 2011, 326 growers chose to plant just over 90,000 hectares of GM canola and in 2012 industry sources predicted that approximately 120,000 hectares of GM Canola was planted.

The future

The future commercial adoption of GM crops in Western Australia will require approval of the OGTR, market acceptance of the GM crop and approval under Western Australia's GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003. This stepwise approval process provides the checks and balances necessary to ensure confidence that technology is being applied safely.


Dr Rosalie McCauley | Development Officer
Grains Industry Directorate
Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia
3 Baron-Hay Court | South Perth  WA  6151
t: + 61 (8) 9368 3787 | e:

Richard Wheater | Development Officer
Grains Industry Directorate
Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia
3 Baron-HayCourt | South Perth WA 6151
t: + 61 (8) 9368 3212 | e: