Gene Edited Seed

The NFU’s position is that all genetically engineered plants, including those developed using gene-editing technology, should be regulated by the federal government. We call for all gene edited varieties to be defined as “Plants with Novel Traits” (PNTs) under Canada’s Seeds Act Regulations, making them subject to Part V of the Seeds Regulations.  This will ensure the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) maintains its ability to regulate genetically engineered seed in the public interest.

The NFU is asking the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to revise the proposed CFIA regulatory guidance to ensure all gene-edited plants and seed are subject to government safety assessment, identified as Plants with Novel Traits, and publicly listed to ensure transparency and farmer choice.

The NFU is also asking the Minister of Health to rescind the recently adopted “regulatory guidance” interpreting the Food and Drug Regulations in a way that would allow companies to avoid government regulation and public disclosure of some of their gene edited products.

CFIA Proposed Regulatory Guidance

The CFIA wants to make gene-edited genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) plants and seed exempt from regulation. Instead, it would let private companies decide if their own products are safe for the environment — and allow them to put them on the market without revealing they are gene-edited.

Click here to tell the Minister you want mandatory, independent safety assessments and mandatory reporting to government for all genetically engineered seeds and crops.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates genetically engineered plants (GMOs) for environmental safety under the authority of the Seeds Regulations – Part V, which determines whether plants are considered “Plants with Novel Traits” (PNTs) and if so, how they are regulated. Today, the CFIA considers all genetically engineered plants to be PNTs and must approve them before they can be released into the environment and put on the market. The CFIA is proposing to change its interpretation of the regulations to allow most new plants created by gene editing to be released without any regulatory oversight or notification. It would also exempt some genetically engineered plants that have a trait previously approved by the CFIA, even if the approved trait was in another plant species or developed using different technology – over time, more and more gene-edited plants will be exempted. It is up to plant developers to determine whether their new gene-edited plant needs to be regulated — a clear conflict of interest. The CFIA will have no access to any data about exempted gene-edited plants, and will be unable to monitor them for unexpected effects in the future.

Increasing corporate control over seed

The regulatory interpretation the CFIA is proposing creates pathways for reducing public oversight and expanding the unregulated introduction of plants produced through gene editing. The CFIA is proposing to significantly expand biotech seed companies’ ability to act without restraint. A tiny number of multinational corporations have control of gene editing technology via the patents they hold: Corteva holds exclusive patents to key CRISPR/Cas technologies. ChemChina (Syngenta), Bayer, BASF also have numerous important patents relevant to gene editing. These four companies not only control over 60% of the world’s seed market, but they are also dominant in pesticides, other chemicals and pharmaceuticals. They are accountable to their shareholders, and their duty is to increase shareholder value by maximizing profit.

Outcomes of gene editing are not fully understood

Gene editing can change the function of a plant’s own DNA by silencing or forcing the expression of specific genes, removing genes, and/or changing the location of genes within the genome. It can also add new genetic sequences at specific locations. Gene editing can make radical changes to plants which are not possible through traditional plant breeding methods. With gene editing, plant developers can make changes to specific sites in a plant’s genome, but they do not have complete control over the results. The process does not always behave as predicted. In short, full knowledge about gene editing does not exist.

Proposed guidance is not science-based

Science is continuously creating knowledge, and new research reveals new understandings, yet the CFIA’s proposal assumes knowledge about the future by exempting gene-edited plants with previously approved traits. The CFIA would rely on private companies to determine whether their own product is subject to the regulations, with no transparency as to what, if any research supports these decisions. When a product is submitted for approval, the CFIA merely reviews the company’s own data package, which is considered confidential business information. By protecting and promoting secrecy of the data used to support approvals, the CFIA contradicts its commitment to science-based decision-making, and this undermines public trust in both the regulator and the regulated plants.

Foreseeable harm to sensitive markets

By exempting many gene-edited plants, the CFIA proposal also prevents transparency in the marketplace. The Canadian public in general, especially farmers, should not be faced with unknown and unidentified products of gene-editing. The CFIA’s proposal would allow plant developers to market gene-edited seed varieties to farmers without revealing they were products of this technology. For sensitive markets, this could result in rejection of Canadian exports of crops that are known or suspected to include gene-edited varieties.

Scientific knowledge is constantly increasing. Gene editing technology is new and powerful. The environmental impacts of future products cannot be known before they are developed. The products of gene editing will be living organisms that can reproduce independently. A regulatory approach that says “we don’t need to know” before any gene-edited products are put on the market is fundamentally unscientific. Denying the regulator any ability to assess, review and regulate most new gene-edited plants is the opposite of responsibility. Allowing these products to be marketed without identifying them as gene-edited is the opposite of transparency.

NFU Policy Documents about Gene Editing

NFU Briefing Note on proposed gene editing regulatory guidance
National Farmers Union BRIEFING NOTE regarding proposed regulatory guidances for plants and seeds produced using new biotechnologies (gene editing) Recommendations to Health Canada: • All gene-edited products, including those with Read more
NFU Submission to CFIA on Gene Editing Regulatory Guidance
Submission to CFIA on guidance for determining whether a plant is subject to Part V of the Seeds Regulations The NFU is a voluntary direct-membership, non-partisan, national farm organization made Read more
Commentary on CFIA proposal for regulating gene-edited plants
The CFIA’s proposed guidance would allow plant developers (biotechnology companies) to decide for themselves whether their product meets the CFIA’s criteria for regulation as a PNT. It proposes to exempt from regulation genetically engineered plants that do not contain foreign DNA if they are not expected to result in any of four environmental impacts the CFIA lists. In addition, the proposed criteria would exempt some genetically engineered plants that have a trait previously approved by the CFIA, even if the approved trait was in another plant species or developed using different technology. Read more
Submission to Health Canada on proposed new guidance for Novel Food Regulations
All gene-edited products should be regulated as novel and therefore subject to government safety assessment and pre-market notification. This would ensure Health Canada maintains its ability to regulate foods derived from gene-edited plants in the public interest. It would ensure farmers have access to the information they need to make informed choices about the seed they purchase and crops they grow. Read more
National Farmers Union Policy on Genetically Modified (GM) Foods
Download the PDF Version The believes that all Canadians—farmers and non-farmers alike—must engage in an informed debate on the genetic modification of food. Citizens must examine genetically modified (GM) food Read more
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