February 09, 2006
Thank you for your letter and for providing a copy of your article.
I stand by my claim that the Australian regulatory system works. CSIRO had approached Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) seeking advice on the kind of data it would need to consider the GM alpha-amylase inhibitor field peas should we put them forward for commercial release. FSANZ advised CSIRO it would require in particular full characterisation of the pea form of the bean protein and data indicating its potential for toxicity and allergenicity. It was out of these requirements that we conducted our research, with each step leading us to explore further so as to be able to provide a full set of data.
We used an animal model for allergenicity because one of the preceding tests, namely, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry indicated that while the pea form of the bean protein backbone was the same as the native bean protein, there were significant post translational modification differences namely in glycosylation. Glycosylation is known to sometimes have a role in altered immune response and the mouse model used by the ANU researchers showed the pea form of the bean protein elicited a mild – not dangerous – immune response in those mice exposed to it.
Whether the mouse was a suitable model is open to discussion, and indeed immunologists around the world are still working towards identifying an animal model that does translate well to humans. However because of this uncertainty, CSIRO made the decision to discontinue the work as it believed it was the responsible thing to do.
CSIRO will continue to conduct its gene technology research in line with conditions laid down by Australia’s regulatory system, and we will keep looking at risks and benefits of GM crops on a case-by-case basis. We will also continue to publish our research results and make our findings available to the public.