Removes safety checks on corporate science and denies transparency to farmers and food companies
On May 3, 2023 the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food approved changes to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulatory guidance that, along with similar changes permitted by the Minister of Health in May of 2022, allow product developers to assess the safety of their own genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) seeds and foods without government oversight.
“This is a shocking abdication of responsibility by our regulators. The government has fully turned GM food safety over to companies using confidential, privately-owned science,” said Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). “Canadians should be aware that the government will no longer be assessing the safety of many new genetically modified foods and seeds. This decision asks Canadian farmers and consumers to trust unseen corporate science. We need independent science, not corporate self-regulation.”
The exemptions to regulation apply to gene edited seeds that have no foreign DNA and to foods produced from these plants. These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will not go through any government approval process at Health Canada or the CFIA, but can be released onto the market by companies without any safety data submitted to the government. These GMOs can also be released without notifying the government or public.
The result will be unknown GM foods and seeds on the market that have not be subject to any independent safety assessment.
“Allowing the sale of GM plants and foods without overseeing corporate science puts the health of Canadians and our environment at risk,” said Thibault Rehn of the Quebec network Vigilance OGM. “The government has allowed the biotechnology industry lobby to win an end to safety regulation.”
The lack of mandatory notification means that some genetically modified foods and seeds could be released onto the market without the knowledge of farmers and food manufacturers.
“Allowing undisclosed GM seeds into Canadian agriculture will challenge and ultimately destroy the systems that farmers and many food companies have set up to deliver non-GM choices to consumers,” said Jenn Pfenning, Ontario farmer and National Farmers Union President. “Essentially, these changes will give biotechnology companies free rein over our food system. This decision needs to be reversed, or over time, it will eliminate our ability to offer reliable non-GM food choices, including organic food.”
Organic food and farming prohibits all genetic engineering, including gene editing, via adherence to the Canadian Organic Standards.
“This decision runs directly counter to the minister’s commitment to find a solution that ensures organic farmers can continue to farm organically,” said Garry Johnson, President of the farmer led organization SaskOrganics. “Not ensuring full disclosure of all GM seeds through a mandatory public registry, will make it challenging for organic farmers to meet the requirements of the Canadian Organic Standards.”
Gene editing is a set of new genetic engineering techniques that can make changes to the genome (DNA) of an organism, without having to permanently incorporate DNA from other species.