CFIA issues final decision, clearing regulatory pathway for gene-edited crops

May 3, 2024 will go down as “a ground-breaking day for Canadian agriculture,” says the Canada Grains Council’s vice-president for trade policy and seed innovation.

That’s because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) published the third and final update regarding the rules for gene-edited crops going forward, clearing a regulatory pathway for them to be treated the same as traditionally-bred varieties and cultivars.

In other words, gene-edited crops can be considered “non-novel” or “non-genetically modified” by Canadian standards, with approvals based on their traits or characteristics, not on breeding techniques or how they were developed.

Health Canada and the CFIA had previously announced they would not require gene-edited crops to go through the novel crop process to receive health and environmental approvals. The third and final policy update regarding the use of gene-edited crops in feed for livestock was issued Friday morning.

“This is a ground-breaking day for Canadian agriculture, as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirms its livestock feed guidance, marking the final piece in a series of vital policy updates that began in 2018,” explains the Grains Council’s Krista Thomas. “With this final piece in place, Health Canada and the CFIA have now answered longstanding calls from the seed and grain sectors for predictable, clear, and consistent policies for gene-edited crops.”

“This news opens up incredible opportunities for innovation within the grain sector. We are particularly excited about crops that can better withstand environmental stresses such as drought and pests without compromising yield,” continues Thomas, noting gene editing allows for much quicker and more efficient development of better varieties than traditional plant breeding methods.

Chris Davison, president and CEO of the Canola Council of Canada, calls Health Canada’s guidance “an important milestone in unlocking the next-generation potential for innovation and growth in the Canadian canola industry.”

CropLife Canada is also welcoming the updated guidance from CFIA and Health Canada in a statement.

“These updates are critical to providing a clear path for much-needed investment in new made-in-Canada crop varieties through methods like gene editing, to ensure farmers have the tools they need to improve their productivity while reducing their impact on the environment,” says the national organization that represents seed and crop protection companies.

CropLife also urges the Canadian government to continue to advocate for regulatory alignment with trading partners to ensure market access for gene-edited crops of the future: “As a scientific policy leader and an export dependent nation, Canada must relentlessly pursue measures that support market access for Canadian-grown crops, which will be increasingly needed to combat the rise of global food insecurity.”

Read the CFIA’s new regulatory guidance regarding livestock feed here.

Previous coverage:

Gene-editing in plant breeding has one last regulatory hurdle to clear: feed

Canada moves forward on giving gene-editing the conventional plant breeding stamp of approval


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