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Response from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to CBAN, on the regulation of genetically engineered trees

By email October 2, 2020 to Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
In response to CBAN’s letter, July 22, 2020 addressed to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada

Dear Ms. Sharratt:

I am writing in response to your letter to the Honourable Patty Hajdu regarding the regulation of genetically engineered (GE) trees. As you know, Minister Hajdu’s Office forwarded your correspondence to me for consideration. I appreciate your interest in this topic and am pleased to have the opportunity to address the questions you have raised.

With regard to whether an application for a GE chestnut has been submitted for review, due to privacy considerations, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) does not disclose the status of applications that have been submitted or are currently under review. However, developers of GE plant products are encouraged to voluntarily post a notice of submission on the CFIA website. These notices include information on the product and the data submitted to support the assessment. You can view this list at www.inspection.gc.ca/plant-varieties/plants-with-novel-traits/notices-of-submission/eng/1300143491851/1300143550790.

The Government of Canada considers issues of safety to be of the utmost importance. The safety of new products is carefully and cautiously assessed before they can be released into the environment, used in livestock feed, or made available to the consumer. Agricultural and forest products of biotechnology require several safety assessments and authorizations according to the intended end uses. CFIA assesses the safety of seeds and plants for release into the environment under the Seeds Act and Regulations. CFIA is also responsible for assessing novel feeds under the Feeds Act and Regulations. Finally, if a product would be used as food, Health Canada assesses safety for use as food and its effect on human health under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations.

Regarding a submission to the U.S., on August 18, 2020, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) posted the “Availability of Petition for Deregulation of American Chestnut Developed Through Genetic Engineering,” which invites public comment prior to October 19, 2020. You can view the posting on the USDA website.

With our shared border with the U.S., Canadian regulators have experience in managing many different scenarios where the potential for transboundary movement exists, suchas with certain plant species or insect populations. Canadian regulators are in routine contact with their American counterparts to discuss how to best manage these types of scenarios so that our plant resource base, environment, and economy are protected.

I trust that this information will be of assistance to you. Thank you for writing with your comments and concerns.

Sincerely, The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, PC, MP