Gene-edited plants get a lighter regulatory touch in Health Canada’s new guidelines for novel foods. What is next?

According to Health Canada, companies are allowed to sell new food that comes from genetically-engineered plants, without any government safety assessments, and only based on voluntary corporate information. In this voluntary transparency initiative (TI), plant breeders are encouraged to self-regulate the risks of their genetic products and provide concise information about the product, which Health Canada publishes online for public access.

At long last, Canada has opened door to the Canadian market for some genetically-engineered foods produced with new gene-editing (GE) techniques. Canada and several major crop-producing countries including Argentina, Australia, Brazil and the USA have examined the potential risk from genome-edited products, and concluded that these products don’t require additional risk assessments if no foreign DNA is present in the final variety. Rick White, chair of the Canada Grains Council believes this will open up the very real possibility of dramatic improvements for small- and large-acre crops alike, from productivity improvements to new solutions for emerging pest pressures to advances in food and fuel crops that will benefit the entire value chain including consumers.

This regulatory decision will reduce the time and cost to develop new crop varieties. The benefit of this is that, as climates change continues, plant breeders will be able to commercialize new crops, fruits, and vegetable varieties more rapidly, which will benefit us as consumers with more food on store shelves. As a result, everyone can benefit from this new regulation, according to Stuart Smyth, an associate professor at University of Saskatchewan in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources.

Health Canada intends to develop similar guidance for genetically-modified animals and microorganisms. However, one question might come up: following this decision, could Canadians soon be eating GE animal products that have not been assessed for safety? Should we put food options on the market without even introducing the products and asking the opinion of the consumers? This is important because a study by Global Market Insights Inc. estimates that the gene-editing market value could reach USD 19.9 billion by 2030.

According to Kajal Devani, Director of Science and Technology, Canadian Angus Association, we need to convince our parents, our community, and all consumers of the benefits of genetic engineering before commercializing gene-edited products.

In this regard, she mentioned the importance of the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) symposium as one of the annual conventions that rotate across US states to connect science and industry to improve beef cattle genetics. The symposium is a great way to address topics ranging from fertility (estrus synchronization, timed-AI, sexed semen, genetic correlations of scrotal circumference to other traits) to consumer demands (beef production as a consumer-driven business; who is our consumer; what do they want today and 20 years from now; the genetics of meat science; and what can we do to improve the palatability of beef). Fortunately, in 2023 BIF is scheduled to be held in Calgary just prior to the 2023 Calgary Stampede.

In summary, Canada will remain at the forefront of crop innovation and environmentally friendly techniques while ensuring the financial viability of family farms. Moreover, many plant breeders believe GE could revolutionize crop development. It will allow scientists to quickly and precisely alter the DNA of a plant to achieve desired characteristics. For example, scientists can improve wheat disease resistance or create canola hybrids with healthier oil. As a result of new breeding technologies, such as CRISPR gene editing, plant and animal breeding has become more accessible and efficient.

Niloofar Pejman

Visiting Scientist, Livestock Gentec









Posted in Industry.