Farmer and consumer rights networks are concerned that proponents could use Canada’s approval as a "safety stamp" to introduce golden rice in the Philippines and start human trials
Health Canada has announced its approval of the genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) Vitamin A enhanced “golden rice” even though it is not intended for sale in Canada and has not yet been approved by regulators in the intended markets.
“Health Canada should not be spending public resources to assess the safety of GM foods that will not be sold in Canada,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).
Golden rice is genetically engineered to have higher levels of a Vitamin A precursor and is promoted as part of a solution to Vitamin A deficiency which is a serious public health problem in many developing countries, but not in Canada. Golden Rice is intended for distribution in the Philippines as well as other countries including Bangladesh, India and Indonesia where rice is a major staple food.
Farmers and consumer rights networks in the Philippines have expressed alarm about Canada’s approval. The networks are concerned that a national policy loophole could enable proponents to use Canada’s approval as a "safety stamp" to introduce Golden Rice in the Philippines and start feeding trials including with children and pregnant women.
“We also question why the International Rice Research Institute is seeking safety approval from countries like Canada, Australia, and the US while farmers and consumers in Asia who plant and eat rice as a staple are left in the dark. Promoting readily available, diverse and safe Vitamin A food sources from sustainable and ecological farming is the long term solution to combat malnutrition, ensure food security and health, not genetically modified crops like golden rice,” said Cris Panerio of MASIPAG, a farmers network in the Philippines which is part of a pan-Asian network of more than 30 groups called the Stop Golden Rice! Network.(1)
Health Canada posted its approval decision on Friday March 16, 2018 and follows a December 20, 2017 approval from the agency Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
“The Canadian government has just waded into a huge global controversy that should be left to Asian farmers and consumers to decide, not Canadian regulators,” said Eric Chaurette of the international development group Inter Pares.
In a February letter responding to a request from CBAN for a rationale for the departmental review of Golden Rice, Health Canada said, “Developers often choose to seek authorization in Canada as a first step in their regulatory plan even if they do not plan to sell the product in Canada.”(2)
“This precedent could set Canada up as a global regulatory haven for companies that want a seal of approval for their GM product,” said Thibault Rehn of the Quebec network Vigilance OGM. “The government should consult with the farmers and consumers to decide which GM foods it should evaluate.”
While Health Canada says that the GM rice is not intended for sale in Canada, they state their safety assessment was conducted, “in order to determine whether this rice variety could be sold in Canada as food.”(3)
“We need to first give the people and government of the Philippines time to assess and debate golden rice, before we weigh in,” said Chaurette.
(1) MASIPAG has released numerous press statements of Golden Rice www.masipag.org Please see http://masipag.org/2018/02/golden-rice-no-substantial-benefit-safety-studies-not-sufficient/ and also http://opinion.inquirer.net/109834/golden-rice-dengvaxia-fiasco-waiting-happen
(2) Correspondence between the Canadian government and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is posted at www.cban.ca/GoldenRice-government-letters
(3) Health Canada, Provitamin A Biofortified Rice Event GR2E (Golden Rice) https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/genetically-modified-foods-other-novel-foods/approved-products/golden-rice-gr2e.html