The many faces of GM foods in Australia.  What is GMO? What are we being told? Most scientific evidence suggests these foods are harmless, but lack of evidence of harm isn’t evidence of safety – think about the asbestos de-barkle. History has proven that adequate research is not done prior to a product being used and many times is not until decades down the track the full ramification of the use of these toxic products are realised. Sadly it is then too late!

Enjoy a conversation with Fran Murrell, MADGE, who is in the thick of the GMO action in Australia.

Supermarkets are now full of foods with ingredients that could be derived from genetically modified (GM) crops or from animals given GM feed. As a parent how do you know if what you are buying is GM or Non-GM? Current labeling regulations make it almost impossible to know. It’s likely you are eating genetically modified (GM) foods every day so it’s useful to know what they are, their impact and if you choose how to avoid them.

How did our grandparents breed new types of plants?

Previously breeding of plants was completed by cross-pollinating plant breeds, this was done by taking the male pollen from one plant and putting into the female flower of another to create a new sort of tomato. This is basically how plants were bred until the 1930s, when new breeding techniques, including hybridization, were developed[1].

The discovery of the structure of DNA in the 1950s led to much experimentation.

  • In 1974 a gene from a frog was transplanted into bacteria[2] creating the first genetically modified (GM) organism.[3]
  • GM plants were developed in the 1980s and in
  • 1994 the first GM crop in the US, a tomato, was grown.
  • 1995 the US approved a How-to-Avoid-GMO-Foods potato.
  • Both GM tomato and potato crops were failures and have been withdrawn. They haven’t been sold for well over a decade[4].


What does genetically modified mean?

Genetic Modification (GM) is a new type of plant breeding that developed during the 1980s. It has more similarities to a viral infection than to traditional breeding. Scientists take DNA and genes from bacteria, viruses, plants, animals or create synthetic and chimeric genes that have never existed before. These are used to make a ‘gene cassette’, which is inserted, into a plant cell.

The two main ways to force this gene cassette into a plant cell are:

  • to use a bacterium to ‘infect’
  • to use a ‘gene gun’ to ‘shoot’ the GM material in.

The idea is to change the way the GM plant functions. The main ways GM plants have been altered are:

  • Herbicide tolerance – this means the GM plant can be sprayed with a weedkiller. The aim is to kill the weeds while the GM crop survives. (59% of GM planting is this type of plant)
  • Insect resistance – the GM plant produces a toxin that kills certain insects that eat it by destroying their guts. This toxin cannot be washed off as it is within the GM plant. (18% of GM planting)
  • Some newer GM plants are both herbicide tolerant and insect resistant. (23% of GM planting). For example the Smartstax GM corn contains six genes to kill insects and can be sprayed with two different kinds of weedkillers.


Newer types of GM have been developed that edit genes and stop them being expressed. These new GM methods carry the same risks as previous GM breeding.

Did you know you are probably eating GM foods everyday?

So why do I say you are probably eating GM foods everyday?

  • GM soy, corn, canola, sugarbeet and cotton are widely grown in North and South America and exported around the world.
  • In Australia we grow a small amount of GM canola but nearly all our cotton is GM.
  • These GM crops are processed into many of the mysterious sounding ingredients on food labels including: soy lecithin, maltodextrin, corn syrup and vegetable oil.
  • GM crops are also used as animal feed so the chicken you eat may have been fed on GM soy, canola or corn.


To what extent are GM foods grown in Australia?

GM cotton was first grown in Australia in 1996. Currently nearly all the crop is GM. Three different types are grown:

  • Bollgard II with two insect killing genes
  • Roundup Ready Flex to allow the GM cotton to survive being sprayed with the weed killer Roundup
  • Liberty Link which allows the GM cotton to survive being sprayed with the weed killer Liberty.

GM cotton is processed into cottonseed oil, often labelled vegetable oil. Cottonseed is also used as an animal feed.

How many farmers are growing GM canola crops in Australia?

  • GM canola was grown commercially for the first time in Victoria and NSW in 2008 and in WA in 2010.
  • Less than a quarter of the canola crop in Australia is GM.

Australia also imports GM ingredients, processed food and GM animal feed.

Map of evidence of contamination due to GM crops across Australia

Map of evidence of contamination due to GM crops across Australia 


Where can our members go for additional information and your research material?

Go to MADGE to access more information, research data, event/activates run by MADGE as well as details on Fran Murrell’s speaking opportunities.

  • For further information on chemicals to avoid go to the Chemical Free Community Library
  • To search for services and products that are non-toxic and less toxic go to 
  • The Chemical Free Community Facebook also has a constant stream of information…but beware “You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it and then there is no going back!


Fran Murrell MADGE

FRAN MURRELL is part of MADGE: Mothers Are Demystifying Genetic Engineering, a group that aims to raise awareness about safety concerns relating to genetically modified food. In 2007 she joined together with two other women to form MADGE to let mothers and others know what is happening to our food. She has given talks and workshops on GE and other food technologies in Australia and overseas. She was recently one among seven to deliver a message to 2014 G20 Leaders in Brisbane. She has written articles and produces a monthly digest on GE food and related issues.

Looking for a speaker, keynote or panalist for your next event. Contact Fran