Consultation underway on final hurdle to approving gene edited crops in Canada

It’s been a long process, but Canada is nearing a final decision on the use of gene editing in crop development.

Krista Thomas, vice president of seed innovation and trade policy with the Canada Grains Council, explains the final assessment — that of feed for livestock — is nearing completion, as the consultation wraps up next month.

The first two hurdles gene editing had to clear — food safety and environmental impact — were completed in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

While it may seem that approval for livestock feed should be a slam-dunk after clearing the human food hurdle, Thomas explains it’s an important part of the evaluation process and is looked at slightly differently versus human consumption.

The crop has to be cleared for people who are formulating feeds, yes, but animals eat the same diet their entire lifespan and that means the impact is assessed differently from how Health Canada would assess a human diet, she says. (More below)

Once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency completes this last hurdle, it will be a waiting game to see what the final rule is on gene editing use in plant breeding in Canada.

That clarity is key for plant breeders, Thomas says, as the final decision will convey to breeders if the products they develop need a pre-market safety assessment or not.

“That’s really important because without that clarity, it’s difficult to get funding for research. It encourages investment, you know, to maybe move outside of Canada to the U.S. are other places where there is better clarity. And it means that we really can’t start introducing these products in Canada, so farmers won’t have access until these three pieces are in place,” she says.

Related: Pierre Petelle explains the last hurdle to approving gene editing 

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