National Newswatch

Some genetic modifications in foods will continue to require close assessment.


Ottawa–Health Canada has released updated guidance for plant breeding innovation that the Canada Grains Council (CGC) says sets out clear rules for both public and private sector researchers using the latest plant breeding techniques.

The guidance includes a transparency mechanism for all gene-edited varieties that will help ensure the grain sector will continue to provide commercial transparency to its customers, says Tyler Bjornson, CGC Executive Vice-President. This approach aligns with many of Canada’s trading partners who similarly uphold a science and risk-based approach to the regulation of plant breeding.

CGC has been working on bringing nutritional, environmental and production enhancements to grains and oilseeds using the latest plant breeding techniques, he said.

The approach adopted by Health Canada is firmly rooted in science and matches CGC’s goal of a risk-based approach to regulating plant breeding,” said CGC Chair Rick White. “This will open up the very real possibility of dramatic improvements for small and large acre crops alike, from productivity improvements to new solutions for emerging pest pressures to advances in food and fuel crops that will benefit the entire value chain including consumers.”

The advent of several new plant breeding methods in the past decade has given plant breeders the ability to bring new varieties to market faster and at lower cost than older techniques, CGC said. “As a result, Canada’s grain sector is anticipating that the pace of new variety adoption will accelerate. Many researchers have been reluctant to work on products that might provide nutritional, environmental or production benefits, due to unclear, costly, or time-consuming regulatory requirements.”

Health Canada’s new approach “gives plant breeders much more clarity about which innovations will trigger those processes, and confidence that their work will make it to farmers’ fields” It will also enable producers to adopt better varieties that result in more sustainable production and remain financially viable.

Health Canada said its Novel Food Regulations were first published in 1999 and required a manufacturer to file a pre-market notification and for the department to establish the food was safe. The associated Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods were last updated in 2006.

With the advent of new tools of genetic modification, plant developers requested clearer and more transparent guidelines, the department said. It sets out five categories of genetically-modified food that won’t be considered as novel foods and require close scrutiny.

“While most characteristics introduced or altered in plants are known to not affect food safety, there are certain characteristics that would pose a potential safety concern and would be considered novel food and require a pre-market assessment.” These include characteristics that affect allergens, toxins or nutrients in a modified plant. Plant varieties that have altered or new characteristics that could affect their food use continue to be considered novel food that require pre-market notification and assessment prior to sale, Health Canada said.

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