Canada gives green light to gene-edited crops

Canada’s government has announced plans to move forward with plant breeding innovation, while maintaining the integrity of the organic sector.

Agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced updated guidance for seed regulations that will provide clear direction for plant breeders so that Canadian farmers “can access new seed varieties, enhance sustainable food production and be more resilient in the face of today’s challenges”.

On 3 May, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) published updated guidance for Part V of the Seeds Regulations to make it clear which plants — whether developed via conventional breeding or through new plant breeding innovation methods — require assessment from the CFIA before being released into the environment. 

See also: Gene-edited weather-resilient potatoes may be ready by 2025

Ms Bibeau’s announcement included plans for a “government-industry steering committee on plant breeding innovations transparency will facilitate ongoing discussions as gene-edited products are introduced in the marketplace”. 

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. 

Plants that require assessment from the CFIA include plants in which DNA from another species (foreign DNA) has been introduced – effectively genetically modified plants; and plants that possess new traits and have the potential to negatively impact the environment.

The updated guidance appears to put new plant breeding techniques, including gene editing, on the same regulatory footing as conventionally-bred techniques.

“While facilitating the development of new plant varieties from plant breeding innovations, in light of discussions with the government-industry committee, we will protect the integrity of organic certification,” added Ms Bibeau.

In its release, Canada’s agriculture ministry noted the UK, US, Japan, Australia, Argentina and Brazil have clarified the pathway for gene-edited products. New Zealand and the European Union are in the process of doing so.

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