Glacier FarmMedia – Guidance on how gene editing will be used in Canadian plant breeding is still not available and that doesn’t sit well with the Conservative opposition.
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“This is important and we need this done,” said agriculture critic John Barlow in an interview.
He raised the concern during a standing agriculture committee meeting on food security, saying that although Health Canada said last spring that gene editing was safe, “now it appears the minister of agriculture has had some cold feet and has now paused the rules and regulation development around that.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said recently that the timeline for guidance is unknown.
Why it matters: Gene edited crops would come to market faster if they are treated as traditionally bred crops versus transgenic.
[RELATED] Genetic editing in livestock faces strong headwinds
The hold-up appears to be caused by concerns on how to satisfy the organic sector, which opposes gene editing and believes sensitive markets could be affected.
“Some seed purchasers need to know what plant breeding methods were used in order to maintain access to certain markets. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the CFIA are working closely with stakeholders to determine the best path forward to ensure the continued competitiveness of both the organic and non-organic sectors,” said the CFIA in an emailed response to a question about the status of the guidance.
Dave Carey from the Canadian Canola Growers Association said guidance for biosafety and feed, the two pieces industry awaits, is critically important. He said gene editing is inexpensive compared to genetic modification and could lead to more players in the seed business.
“Actually, what we anticipate in the canola sector is we’ll have more seed companies, smaller seed companies, start-up companies, that can use a CRISPR-Cas9 technology and do things differently,” he said at the committee meeting. “Getting clear gene-editing guidelines is good for farmers. It’s good for Canadian innovation.”
Carey said the rest of the world has adopted the practice, other than the European Union, and clear guidance will allow companies to invest in Canada.
Barlow said the letter that agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau received from the National Farmers Union and 14 other organizations in October likely caused the delay.
That letter asked her to replace the president of the CFIA and alleged CFIA was colluding with CropLife Canada to develop regulations regarding gene-edited seeds.
“It’s been proven to be safe,” Barlow said. “For us, it is another example of the minister of agriculture being more beholden to the activist minority than science-based decision making and what’s best for Canadian agriculture.”
CFIA said it is committed to being a science-based regulator and recognizes plant breeding innovations that allow quicker development and benefits to farmers and consumers.
“The CFIA’s guidance update for Part V of the Seeds Regulations will make it clear which plants — whether developed traditionally or through new plant breeding innovations — require assessment from the CFIA before being released into the environment,” the agency said. “Under Canada’s product-based approach, it is the characteristics of the product, not how it was developed, that determine if a pre-market safety assessment is required.”
– This article was originally published at The Western Producer.