Wide swath of farm groups support the change.
Ottawa—Federal approval of gene-edited (GE) crops has the support of most farm groups that want their members to have the same choices in crops as growers in other countries.
Organic groups oppose the change even though Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau stressed during her announcement of the new policy that the U.S., Japan, Australia, Argentina and Brazil have clarified the pathway for GE seeds and New Zealand, the UK and the European Union are in the process of doing so.
The decision means varieties of crops developed through gene-editing will not be treated the same as genetically engineered crops that must undergo government safety reviews.
Bibeau also announced that the government will once again provide funding to support the review of Canada’s organic standards, which are updated every five years and are due for renewal in 2025.
President Keith Currie of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said the GE crops decision means farmers will have access to new plant varieties that are more resilient to pests and extreme weather events. The Organic Standards review will “help ensure farmers can continue to make informed decisions on what they produce.”
Carolyn Young, Executive Director of the Organic Council of Ontario, said the federal move will allow GE seeds to be grown without health or safety assessments and only voluntary disclosure.
That will compromise organic guidelines by making it difficult to verify GE products, which will undermine consumer trust and confidence, she said.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is working on clarifying the matter to address the organic sector’s concern with regulations on how the government intends to handle crops grown from GE seeds, Bibeau said.
As well, said a steering committee to establish procedures for the Seeds Canada database and recommend control measures to “ensure the accuracy and reliability of the database” will be created.
Rick White, Chair of the Canada Grains Council, said, “Innovations like GE crops can help farmers adapt to changing climate conditions and pest pressures while continuing to produce safe, high-quality food for Canadians and consumers worldwide. Farmers are eager to have access to these new plant varieties and look forward to welcoming them to the Canadian marketplace.”
Andre Harpe, Chair of Grain Growers of Canada, said Bibeau’s announcement was “a step in the right direction. It will help us keep pace with global competitors who have already embraced science-based policies to improve crop yields and quality. This is especially important as we face new challenges posed by climate change and other environmental pressures.”
Tools exist to verify that GE seeds were planted and provide the information to buyers, he said. “This is critical to maintaining market choice in the Canadian grain sector and ensuring consumers can access the highest quality products.”
Dean Dias, CEO of Cereals Canada, said, “The significance of plant breeding for the ongoing success of Canada’s cereals cannot be overstated. Canadian agriculture is dependent on scientific advancements to promote sustainability, introduce new varieties to enhance profitability for farmers, and deliver consistent, safe, high-quality wheat, durum, barley, and oats to our customers around the world.”
Canada has “comprehensive and best-in-class transparency tools that ensure all farmers can choose the best seed for their farms and allow the value chain to continue to supply safe, high-quality cereals to all markets.”
Jim Everson, President of the Canola Council of Canada, said the new approach “is is an important step for ongoing canola innovation and Canada’s success. Canola itself is the product of Canadian innovation, and plant breeding innovation has been key to canola generating nearly $30 billion in nation-wide impact each year.”