Will Canada get CRISPR regulations right?

In order for Canada’s farmers and agriculture industry to adapt and welcome new technology, the rules and regulations governing the industry must be predictable, fair, and enabling.

Pierre Petelle, president and CEO of CropLife Canada, says that a predictable and fair regulatory environment means that Canada remains an attractive market for new products, varieties, or technologies.

Developers of new breeding technologies, such as CRISPR, for example, need clarity on the regulatory process before they’ll consider Canada a viable market.

Canada has a means of handling plants with novel traits within the existing regulatory system, as our regulations govern the end product, not the process used to develop it, Petelle says, but the reality is there’s still too much uncertainty. The answers aren’t clear on where things like this fall, or what data is needed in the approval process. (story continues below)

There’s much talk of having “science-based” systems, but what does that really mean in practice? Petelle says that even a science-based system can be stagnant and not allow change or new products, if, for example, everything is looked at through a hazard-based lens (vs risk and how to mitigate that risk).

This type of conundrum is where we’re at in Europe, as countries there have been not just closed to new products, they’re also clawing back access to already established products, such as glyphosate.

What can Canada do to ensure that same thing doesn’t happen here? “We need to keep working to better educate consumers,” Petelle says, noting that what’s happened in other countries is activist- and fear-driven. The second piece to this is maintaining a decision making process that does rely on sound science. 

On the glyphosate file, Petelle says that Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency just wrapped a thorough review spanning seven years, and deemed the product safe.

Canada has very publicly stated that it wants to get rules and regulations right. Even the federal government has singled out the plant breeding sector as one that we want to make sure is attractive to companies looking to invest here.

“We are still a small market,” Petelle says, accounting for only 4% of the global pesticide market. “We have to be predictable, with timely, science-based, approvals or companies will just not bother (to come here),” he says.

Each country’s regulatory system and evolution of that system, including trait approvals or access to active ingredients, can have an impact in other markets. For example, Canadian companies are still waiting on approvals of three GMO canola traits that are ready for commercialization — but China has not yet made it clear when, or if, approval will come.

“(China) needs more of what we grow, and we’ve made it clear it has to come from the land base we already have — the traits are sitting there, ready,” Petelle says. He, like much of the industry, is hopeful this issue will be resolved soon, and the traits can be fully released in Canada for commercial use.

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