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Proposal for “Low Level Presence” would remove Health Canada from safety evaluation of some GM foods

March 7, 2013. Ottawa. Today, a representative of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Coordinator Lucy Sharratt, told the House of Commons Agriculture and Agri-food Committee that government proposals to establish a “Low Level Presence” (LLP) policy would sacrifice health and safety because they would allow imports contaminated with genetically modified (GM) foods that have not been approved by Health Canada.(1)

LLP proposals would change the way GM foods are regulated in Canada. Agriculture Canada is proposing that Canada be the first country in the world to adopt an LLP policy to accept imports contaminated with levels of genetically modified (also called genetically engineered) foods that have not been approved by our own regulatory agencies. Canada would permit imports contaminated with levels of GM foods if they are approved in at least one other country, if Health Canada has deemed that regulatory system acceptable. For higher levels of contamination, Health Canada would conduct a partial, as yet undescribed, risk assessment.

“This change would ask Canadians to accept some GM foods as safe even when Health Canada has not actually approved them,” said Sharratt. “Many people have trouble trusting Health Canada’s current system for approving GM food safety. Is the Minister of Agriculture really ready to ask Canadians to trust the regulatory systems of other countries?”

“The proposal would actually set up three tiers of safety evaluations for GM foods in Canada. Some GM foods wouldn’t be evaluated by Health Canada at all, some would get a partial safety assessment, and others would be approved by Health Canada,” said Sharratt. “This proposal introduces weaker safety evaluation for some GM foods and, in some cases, Health Canada would be removed from GM food safety regulation.”

The LLP policy proposal is based on accepting two levels of contamination, with new criteria for safety:

  1. The “Action Level” for GM contamination would be set at a 0.1% or 0.2% contamination level, if our government accepts the regulatory system of the country of origin.
  2. The “Threshold Level” for specific crops would be an even higher level of contamination and involve a “Canadian LLP risk assessment” that is not yet defined but would not be a full safety assessment.

“Our government would no longer be able to describe our regulatory system as ‘science-based’ because we would be accepting some GM foods based on an assumption of safety rather than an evaluation from Health Canada,” said Sharratt. “From a public health and safety perspective, there’s no justification for allowing the import of foods contaminated with products that have not been fully evaluated by Health Canada,” Additionally, said Sharratt, LLP would sacrifice health and safety without concretely meeting the trade goal of opening other countries to contaminated exports from Canada.


For more information: Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613 241 2267 ext 25

Note to Editors: (1) Today’s testimony from CBAN is available at