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Groups call for mandatory safety assessments for all genetically engineered foods

March 26, 2021, Montreal and Halifax – Yesterday, Health Canada released proposals that would remove some genetically engineered (commonly called genetically modified) foods from regulation. The proposals are part of draft updates to departmental guidance on risk assessment for genetically modified organisms (GMOs)*, now out for 60-day public comment.

“This is an abdication of the Health Canada’s responsibility to ensure food safety,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, “We can’t let private companies decide which foods are safe.”

The proposed changes, in particular, target the regulation of foods from plants created by the new genetic engineering techniques called genome editing or gene editing. The proposals would exempt some foods of certain genome editing techniques from regulation. Product developers would decide for themselves if certain products can enter the market without government risk assessment.

“Government risk assessments should be mandatory for all genetically engineered foods. It’s a question of trust in our food system.” said Thibault Rehn of the Quebec network Vigilance OGM (GMO Watch).

Furthermore, Health Canada says it will encourage product developers to voluntarily notify the government about any unregulated GM foods they intend to put on the market. “Consumers, farmers, and the government may not even know that some of these new, unregulated GMOs exist,” said Sharratt.

“The Canadian government is proposing to move from a system of GMO regulation that is already missing critical transparency and is mostly based on industry science, to a system that, for some GMOs, is completely opaque and directly controlled by industry,” said Rehn.

Health Canada is inviting public comment on the proposals before May 25.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it will also be consulting soon on new regulatory guidance for GM plants.

For more information: Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 902 209 4906, ; Thibault Rehn, Vigilance OGM, 514 582 1674,


* GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or genetic modification (GM) is commonly used by the public in Canada, and the US, to refer to genetically engineered foods. GM is also the language used in most other countries, and in international agreements to denote genetically engineered. However, in regulation, Health Canada and the CFIA use the term “genetic modification” to include products of genetic engineering as well as those of conventional plant breeding.

The proposals would not make changes to regulations per se, but to the text of regulatory guidance documents. Health Canada’s consultation page is Consultation documents are available upon request from Health Canada, or can be provided by CBAN.

  • The proposed updates cover safety assessments of new foods from plants (not animals) for human consumption.
  • In the proposals, Health Canada says that certain gene editing techniques are safe and can therefore forgo government risk assessment, in particular those that do not result in the insertion of foreign DNA.
  • Gene editing, also called genome editing, is a set of new genetic engineering techniques that have been shown to be imprecise, create risks, and have unexpected consequences. The processes of editing an organism’s genome can make unintended genetic changes that need to be detected and evaluated in order to ensure safety.
  • Health Canada has cleared the first gene-edited crop for introduction: a GM waxy corn from the company Corteva. Under the new proposals, this decision would be made by the company itself.
  • Health Canada will ask companies to voluntarily notify the public about any unregulated gene-edited GMOs coming to the market via a “Voluntary Transparency Initiative”.

For information on genome editing see “Genome Editing in Food and Farming: Risks and Unexpected Consequences,” Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 2020.

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) brings together 16 groups to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. CBAN members include farmer associations, environmental and social justice organizations, and regional coalitions of grassroots groups. CBAN is a project of MakeWay’s shared platform.

Vigilance OGM is a Quebec non-profit organization made up of groups and individuals from diverse backgrounds – farmers, environmentalists, consumers, citizens – all concerned about what we put on our plates every day and by the impact of modes agricultural production on the environment and human health.