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Decision disappoints organic sector

Canada moves forward without mandatory disclosure of gene edited seeds

The Honourable Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced a decision to allow new genetically engineered (GE) seeds to be released in Canada without health or safety assessments and only voluntary disclosure. This puts the organic sector, which prohibits all forms of genetic engineering, at significant risk. 

The Canadian organic sector is very disappointed in this decision to move ahead with updating the guidance related to the Seeds Regulations, without requiring the reporting of all gene edited seeds. Mandatory disclosure is considered a minimum to provide the transparency and traceability needed for organic businesses and consumers. This has been consistently communicated by the organic sector to government. 

Organic certifications are the foundation of global organic trade. The Canadian organic sector is a $9.35 billion industry that is globally recognized and has equivalency arrangements with 33 countries to facilitate trade. The processes that have been in place with Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) before the new guidance was proposed help ensure that the organic supply chain is free from genetic engineering will no longer be employed for new genomic techniques, deemed to be non-novel by the Federal Government. 

“Our simple ask is to have a registry of all gene edited products that is mandatory for seed developers and that is overseen by government. Today’s announcement from the government is a step backwards given the government’s transparency commitments,” states executive director, Tia Loftsgard. 

“The organic sector takes contamination very seriously. The need for 100% capture of all gene edited seeds is not a hypothetical situation,” continues Loftsgard. In 2018, GMO wheat was discovered in Alberta and shut down all Canadian wheat exports to Japan and South Korea for 1.5 months. This highlights the risk not only to organics, but to all forms of agriculture in Canada should there be no mandatory transparency of new genetically engineered products moving forward. 

Industry-Government Technical Committee 
The Canada Organic Trade Association, along with other organic partners, participated in a Technical Committee organized by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, to outline the organic perspective on suitable solutions to protect the organic sector in light of Minister Bibeau’s public commitment to protect organic certifications and trade. 

The process was not as promising as the organic sector hoped. From the onset, the aggressive timeline was not conducive to finding a suitable solution to protect organic certifications. The Technical Committee quickly limited the scope of the work to focus primarily on a voluntary database managed by the seed industry, which the organic participants highlighted as problematic from the beginning. The concepts of “voluntary” and “transparency” are fundamentally at odds. Additional measures need to be taken to improve the basic transparency tools that are to be put in place. 

The recommendations in the Report move in the right direction but is a far cry from meeting the needs of the organic sector related to transparency. Further improvements to the recommendations, including regulatory options, must be further explored and implemented to ensure that transparency is maintained for gene edited food, seeds, and feed throughout the various stages of the supply chain from breeding to processing. 

For more information:
Tia Loftsgard, Executive Director
Canada Organic Trade Association
Suite 210-4 Florence Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 0W7
Phone: 613-482-1717 ext. 200
Fax: 613-482-2920
[email protected]

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