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No Regulatory Exemptions

Demand mandatory GMO safety assessments

  1. Ask your candidate to support GMO regulation: Do you support mandatory government safety assessments for all genetically engineered food and seeds? If elected, would you ensure that all genetically engineered foods and seeds are regulated? Click here for a one-page info sheet to ask your question or hand to your candidates
  2. Answer the CFIA’s consultation questionnaire by Sept 16: Click here for CBAN’s Guide
  3. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Click here for an example letter

 

CFIA’s consultation: Proposal to exempt many new GM seeds from regulation

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has launched a public consultation on proposals on the environmental risk assessment of genetically engineered plants. Deadline: Sept 16, 2021.

 

Health Canada’s public comment period is closed: Proposal to exempt many new GM foods from regulation

Health Canada launched a public consultation (March 25 – May 24, 2021) on its proposal to remove government oversight for some genetically engineered foods, particularly those produced through the new genetic engineering techniques of genome editing (also called gene editing). These proposals would allow some GMOs (genetically modified organisms) into our food system without any government safety assessments – these would be unregulated GMOs that the government may not even know exist.

Overview

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are proposing to exempt some genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) foods and seeds from regulation.

If approved, the proposals would remove government oversight of many new genetically engineered plants and many foods from genetically engineered plants. The proposals would allow some GMOs (genetically modified organisms) into our food system without any government safety assessments – these would be unregulated GMOs that the government may not even know exist. Many of these GMOs (those with no foreign DNA) are likely to be produced using the new genetic engineering techniques of genome editing, also called gene editing.

The proposals threaten food safety, environmental protection and democracy. Health Canada and the CFIA are proposing to abdicate their responsibilities to ensure food safety and environmental protection, and set a precedent of corporate self-regulation in the use of genetic engineering in our food system.

Government safety assessments already rely on confidential science submitted by product developers but, if these new proposals go ahead, Health Canada will not even check this corporate science. Allowing corporate self-regulation would be a significant move away from government oversight and review by independent government scientists. Multinational biotechnology and pesticide corporations and their lobby group CropLife Canada have asked for these changes because seed companies want easier, faster regulations for the new genetic engineering techniques of gene editing in particular.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency proposes to exempt genetically engineered seeds that have no foreign DNA, many of which would be produced with the new genetic engineering techniques of genome editing (also called gene editing), from Part V of the Seeds Regulations. The CFIA is asking you to “share your thoughts” by answering an online questionnaire about the proposal. Click here to check CBAN’s new guide to the CFIA’s questionnaire.

Health Canada is proposing three changes – click here to consult our full Guide or keep reading for a summary:

  1. Allow some genetically engineered foods onto the market without government safety assessments: Health Canada is proposing to exempt some genetically engineered foods from regulation. This means that some GMOs would be allowed onto the market without government safety assessments. Specifically, Health Canada is proposing to allow product developers to assess the safety of their own GMOs if there is no foreign DNA inserted. This proposal overlooks the potential consequences of unintended and unexpected effects created by the process of genetic engineering, genome editing in particular (See CBAN’s report for discussion of the risks of genome editing).
  2. Allow unregulated GMOs to go unreported to the government: Health Canada proposes to set up a “Voluntary Transparency Initiative” that would not require, but would encourage private companies to voluntarily inform the government of any unregulated gene-edited GMOs that companies intend to put on the market.
  3. Conduct weaker safety assessments for GMOs that are similar (“identical”) to previously approved GMOs: Health Canada also wants to relax information requirements for the safety assessments of GM foods that have “identical” GM characteristics to those already approved. This proposal introduces “tiered” assessments that could mean “expediated service standards” (shorter timelines for a risk assessment) for some GMOs. More information and analysis on this proposal is forthcoming. See our comments to Health Canada for more information.

If accepted, these changes would set a critical precedent to allow corporate self-regulation of foods produced by new technologies. In fact, Health Canada’s consultation is the beginning of a multi-year process to “modernize” regulation for all GMOs, including GM seeds and GM animals. 

More information:

Background

What is happening?

Why is it happening?

What is at stake?

  • Environmental protection: Because we face dangerous global biodiversity and climate crises, every decision we make now is even more consequential and we have little room to make new mistakes. Significant environmental impacts of using GMOs could be missed if assessments are handed over to the product developers who will profit from their sale.

  • The role of government and the future of independent science: Independent, peer-reviewed science and independent government oversight is essential to safeguarding public health. The public cannot rely on product developers and corporate science to ensure product safety.
  • The role of the public in decision-making: Consumers and farmers should have input into decisions regarding the use of new technologies like genetic engineering, in our food system, including to assess the question of need for the technology and the potential social and economic impacts. 

  • The future of food and farming: The new genetic engineering techniques of genome editing are powerful and could be used to produce many new patented GM foods, plants, and animals. Farmers need to know that the seeds they are buying are safe for the environment and for human consumption, and are acceptable to their customers in Canada and other countries.

Decoding Health Canada’s language

  • “Regulatory guidance”: The proposals are not changes to regulations but would change the “guidance” document, which interprets the regulations and instructs regulators on how to assess GMOs for food safety.
  • “Plant breeding”: The biotech industry and Health Canada often refer to the new genetic engineering techniques of gene editing as “breeding” methods but this is not accurate or appropriate. Unlike breeding methods, genetic engineering techniques (including gene editing techniques) intervene directly in the genome to make changes.
  • “Genetic modification”: The term “genetic modification” is commonly used interchangeably with “genetic engineering,” to refer to the new laboratory techniques of directly intervening in the genome of organisms to make changes. However, Health Canada uses the term “genetic modification” to refer to a broad category that includes conventional plant breeding as well as genetic engineering.
  • “Biotechnology”: In the proposals, Health Canada does not use the term “genetic engineering” at all but instead uses the broader term “biotechnology.”
  • “Pre-market notification”: When Health Canada refers to pre-market notification they are referring to the process where product developers submit information on their GMO to regulators for a safety assessment.
  • “Retransformants”: This is not a common term but Health Canada uses it, for the purposes of regulation, to refer to plants that have been genetically engineered with the identical sequence of DNA as a previously-authorized plant of the same or similar species, to create the same GM trait.

Resources

Government proposals and consultation documents:

Now Open! The Canadian Food Inspection Agency consultation page has a consultation document and a summary, along with a questionnaire.

Health Canada has two consultation documents that are also available upon request from the consultation webpage:

  1. Proposed Changes to Health Canada Guidance on the interpretation of Division 28 of Part B of the Food and Drug Regulations (the Novel Food Regulations): When is a food that was derived from a plant developed through breeding a “novel food”?
  2. Proposed Health Canada Guidance on the pre-market assessment of foods derived from Retransformants under of Division 28 of Part B of the Food and Drug Regulations (the Novel Food Regulations)

CBAN briefings on Health Canada’s proposals:

For information on genome editing (gene editing):

For information on GMO regulation in Canada: