On May 3, 2023 Agriculture Minister Bibeau approved the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulatory guidance on gene-edited genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) plants and seed, making many of these products exempt from regulation. Instead, it lets private companies decide if their own products are safe for the environment — and put them on the market without revealing they are gene-edited. Tell Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Bibeau you want this decision reversed, and that we need mandatory, independent safety assessments and mandatory reporting to government for all genetically engineered seeds and crops.
Use the action tool below to send an instant letter to Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food at firstname.lastname@example.org, with copies to the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, and the Opposition parties’ agriculture critics. You can edit the letter to personalize it – just start typing in the message window to add your own comments.
Other actions you can take:
Write, phone or meet with your own Member of Parliament – use your postal code to find their contact information here.
Email the Canadian Biotech Action Network’s briefing regarding gene editing regulation to your Member of Parliament: Click here for three easy steps.
The CFIA’s Changes:
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. Formerly, the CFIA considered all genetically engineered plants to be PNTs and had to approve them before they could be released into the environment and put on the market. The CFIA has changed its interpretation of the regulations, and now allows most new plants created by gene editing to be released without any regulatory oversight or notification. It also exempts 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 new CFIA regulatory interpretation creates pathways for reducing public oversight and expanding the unregulated introduction of plants produced through gene editing. The CFIA has significantly expanded 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.
New guidance is not science-based
Science is continuously creating knowledge, and new research reveals new understandings, yet the CFIA assumes knowledge about the future by exempting gene-edited plants with previously approved traits. The CFIA now relies 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 that does require government 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 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 now 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.
The NFU recommends:
All genetically engineered plants, including those developed using gene-editing technology, should be regulated as PNTs and therefore subject to Part V of the Seeds Regulations to ensure the CFIA maintains its ability to regulate genetically engineered seed in the public interest.
The NFU is asking the Ministers of Health and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to revise the Health Canada and CFIA regulatory guidances to ensure all gene-edited plants and seed are subject to government safety assessment, identified as Plants with Novel Traits, and mandatorily listed for the public to ensure transparency.
For More Information:
For a closer inspection of the text of the CFIA’s proposed regulations, read the NFU’s commentary on CFIA proposal for regulating gene-edited plants.
To read the NFU’s direct response to the CFIA on this issue, please see the NFU Submission to CFIA on Gene Editing Regulatory Guidance.
Read the April 2022 NFU Briefing Note on proposed guidances
To learn more about what genome editing is and why it is dangerous, read the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) report GENOME EDITING in Food and Farming RISKS AND UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES.
LIke other genetically engineered crops, gene-edited plants will be covered by patents. Learn more by reading the CBAN factsheet, Patents on Genome Editing in Canada
Read the CBAN analysis of the transparency implications of the proposed guidances: New Proposals Would Eliminate Transparency on GMOs In Canada
Watch the NFUniversity presentation Gene Editing – the Science Explained with Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher
or in French go to https://youtu.be/lerdBWuUjLU
**Translation supported by Canadian Heritage