In December 2001 Dr Sue Meek became Australia's inaugural Gene Technology Regulator. She was the first appointee under the Gene Technology Act 2000, which 'provides a comprehensive legal framework for the regulation of genetically modified organisms in Australia, in order to protect human health and safety and the environment.'
At the end of December 2003 the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) announced the approval for the license of Monsanto's GM Roundup Ready canola (oilseed rape). The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) called for a parliamentary enquiry into this decision and a review of the employment of Sue Meek as Gene Technology Regulator. 'It is not acceptable for the OGTR to ignore submissions, ignore advisory committees and misrepresent the legislation,' they said. (OGTR decision not acceptable)
Upon appointment, Dr Meek said she was a firm believer in 'having regulatory systems in place to ensure there are safeguards for the community and the environment', adding, 'As the Regulator, I am neither a proponent, nor critic, of gene technologies, but it is my job to vigorously implement the new laws which govern the development, trial and release of GMOs in the best interest of all Australians.' (New Technology Regulator Takes Up Position)
But some questioned the extent to which Dr Meek could be seen as not 'a proponent' of gene technologies given her professional background. According to Dr Meek's CV, from 1984-88 she was Technical Director of her own company, Sue Meek and Associates, 'specialising in the commercialisation of biologically-based ventures'. She was also engaged at this time as Executive Officer to the South Australian Biotechnology Promotion Committee.
Although she subsequently moved into the public sector, all of her posts in the public sector, prior to becoming Gene Technology Regulator, also placed her in an industry-sympathetic role, involving encouraging the development of the biotechnology industry and the commercialisation of its products. Dr Meek was for several years Executive Director of the Science and Technology Division, in the Department of Commerce and Trade. Prior to that she was Manager of the Emerging Industries Branch, of the Department of State Development, with responsibilities that included improving the State's capacity 'to identify, develop and adopt opportunities' from industries such as biotechnology. Dr Meek has also been Manager of the Biotechnology Branch, in the Technology and Industry Development Authority, and as such 'responsible for promoting the establishment and development of biotechnology-based industry'.
She is also a member of both the Australian Institute of Company Directors and AusBiotech. The latter describes itself as 'the national body of companies and individuals dedicated to the development and prosperity of the Australian biotechnology industry. AusBiotech provides a 'platform' that brings together all the relevant players involved in the Australian biosciences community. Its mission is to facilitate the commercialisation of Australian bioscience in the international marketplace.' It also states its aim as, 'To encourage and facilitate the commercialisation of Australian biotechnology in the domestic and international marketplace.' (What is Ausbiotech?)
Groups like the Network of Concerned Farmers have, understandably, asked whether a career path so consistently built around biotechnology commercialisation was appropriate for a key regulatory figure. They have also questioned the funding base of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator where a proposed funding change would allow the GM industry, instead of the government, to fund this supposedly independent regulatory body after 2005 under a cost recovery principle. (Why trust the regulatory process?)