Canada decides how to regulate genetically modified plants and in large part proposes not to do so.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for regulating genetically modified plants for environmental safety under the Regulations of the Seeds Act – Part V. These regulations define what is considered a “plant with novel traits.” (VCN) and how they are regulated.
The CFIA is proposing a new interpretation that would exempt many genetically modified plants immediately, and more in the future.
The proposed regulatory direction turns its back on science, allows biotech companies to determine safety, and leaves farmers, future regulators and the public in the dark.
Currently, all GM plants are regulated as PNT and must be approved by the CFIA to be released into the environment.
However, the CFIA is now proposing to exempt most new GM plants created by gene editing. If this new interpretation is adopted, companies could sell most genetically modified seeds without providing data to the CFIA or even notifying the regulator, the public or farmers that the seed is genetically modified.
This means that factory developers will decide for themselves whether their product meets the regulatory criteria. These criteria would exempt genetically modified plants if they do not contain foreign DNA and as long as the company does not expect the plants to have a negative impact on the environment.
If the CFIA has already approved a trait, even if it is another type of crop, the genetically modified version will be exempt from regulation.
Each new trait approved by the CFIA will open the door to more exemptions, reducing its regulatory oversight over time.
Gene editing can alter the function of a plant’s DNA by silencing or forcing the expression of specific genes, deleting genes or changing the location of genes in the genome or adding new ones. new genetic sequences at specific locations.
Exempting genetically modified plants on the grounds that they do not contain foreign DNA is wrongly tantamount to the absence of foreign DNA with the absence of risk.
In addition, by gradually deregulating GM products, the CFIA would have less and less access to data, which would make it impossible to scientifically examine the impacts in the future.
Like GM canola, corn and soybeans today, genetically modified plants will be protected by patents. A small number of global companies own the fundamental gene editing patents. Corteva (formerly Dow / Dupont / Pioneer) owns the exclusive rights for CRISPR / Cas applications in major crops and uses its “patent pool” to control the access of other companies and researchers to the technology.
Many crops would likely be genetically modified in the future under this proposal, and therefore patented. Farmers who grow patented genetically modified varieties will not be allowed to use farm-saved seeds and will have to purchase seeds each year and pay royalties.
The National Farmers Union’s long-standing policy states that “all Canadians, whether farmers or not, must engage in an informed debate on the genetic modification of foods … After this debate, citizens – and not the companies that promote these products – must decide whether to accept or reject GM foods.
Neither the CFIA nor the Health Canada consultation foresees a meaningful public debate on this powerful way to change plant genetics.
In the meantime, the NFU is calling for comprehensive and transparent government regulation of all GM plants, including those created by gene editing.
The CFIA invited the public to provide comments through an online questionnaire with a space for open comments or by sending comments to the Office of Plant Biosafety.
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network has produced a guide to the CFIA questionnaire to help members of the public provide useful feedback. The deadline for the CFIA consultation is September 16.
Cathy Holtslander is the National The Director of the Farmers Union research and policy.