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Health Canada removes regulations for gene-edited foods

Health Canada has published new Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods which removes government regulation of many new gene-edited foods. Gene editing refers to insertions, deletions, and substitutions in the genome of living organisms. Health Canada has concluded that gene-edited plants that do not contain DNA from another species should be viewed the same way as plants from traditional plant breeding methods. Their evaluation is based on the product (final characteristics of the food) not the process by which the product is made.

This is in sharp contrast to organic agriculture which takes a holistic systems approach and is all about the process – the way in which food is produced within the integrated principles of ecology, health, fairness, and care. Genetic engineering is not permitted in organic production.   

Because gene-edited plants will no longer be considered “novel”, there is no requirement for public notification when these new unregulated GM foods and seeds enter the Canadian market. This will put the burden on organic farmers to obtain documentation from seed companies confirming that seed is not from gene-edited plants. If gene-edited crops are grown more widely, without regulation, it will increase the risk of contaminating organic fields. Removal of government regulation poses a threat to the integrity of organic.

The CFIA will be meeting with CBAN and organic sector groups this month. At present, it appears that CFIA plans to follow Health Canada’s lead. If you are concerned about the impact of removing government regulation of gene-edited foods and seeds on the organic sector and on consumer rights, now is the time to take action. Visit Canadian Organic Growers Organic Sector and Consumer Rights at Risk to find out how you can help.