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Health Canada looking for input on gene editing guidelines

Wednesday, 07 April 2021. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Health Canada looking for input on gene editing guidelines

 Health Canada is asking for public consultation on the new guidelines for plant breeding innovation in Canada. Photo by Rob Paul, LJI Reporter

Health Canada looking for input on gene editing guidelines
By Spencer Kemp
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World Spectator

From now until May 24, 2021, Health Canada is calling for public consultation on new guidelines for plant breeding innovation. 

Health Canada has proposed guidelines and regulations to allow for foods produced through gene-editing to be included in the 2006 Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods.

According to Erin Gowriluk, Executive Director of the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC), plant breeding techniques have been advancing around the world, but Canada’s regulatory guidance has not been able to keep up.

She notes that Health Canada’s proposal is a step in the right direction.

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“Health Canada launched their consultation this week and it’s an important one because it’s a conversation the sector has been having with officials at Health Canada for a number of years," Gowriluk says. "It’s important because Canadian farmers, as you well know, compete in the national marketplace." 

“When we see countries like Australia for example or the United States moving in this direction and making the regulatory pathway for plant breeding innovation like gene-editing technology more transparent, more predictable, and frankly more appropriate, that puts Canadian farmers at a competitive disadvantage," she adds.

“So what we’re seeing now in these discussion documents, we feel it means that Health Canada is moving in the right direction.”

Establishing new guidelines will help entice multi-national companies to establish locations in Canada because it will create a predictable market environment, something that is currently lacking in Canada.

Gowriluk encourages farmers to share their voice and their thoughts on the proposed guidelines as it benefits the Canadian market.

“We think it’s important to level the playing field in the international market for Canadian farmers by making sure that these multi-national companies are making investments in Canada too,” she says

Gerry Hertz, who is a farmer in Edenwold Saskatchewan, says that gene-editing is important for Canadian producers and would allow them to keep up with the ever-advancing national market.

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“In general, Health Canada’s decision is that gene-editing is safe and that during this consultation period they’re asking for responses back," he says."I think it’s a good idea that farmers send their confirmation to Health Canada that yes, gene-editing is very important for us and it is a clean way to do what we’ve been doing for thousands of years."

Hertz also notes that not keeping up with the international market would impact both producers and gene-editing researchers as well.

“Countries like the United States, Australia, Japan, they all approved genetic engineering in the past year, if not earlier than that, and the reality is that investment and the people who are doing the research are going to go to where their research is welcome. And from that perspective, the sooner we get things done and approved the sooner we strengthen our industry.

“We don’t want to lose researchers to other parts of the world where certain techniques have been approved, so they’re worried it won’t be approved here and so they leave. That’s what we’re worried about. We want to keep those brains in Canada and actually entice them to stay. We have to be fast on making sure that a quick decision is made and the right decision as well.”

Different than genetically modified organisms, Hertz says gene-editing is a safe procedure that helps research and breeding techniques. Simply stated, GMOs involve introducing new genetic material into an organisms DNA while gene-editing involves changing or editing the DNA that is already there.

“What we can do now with gene-editing is you can go in and actually edit the plant, like looking in a book at a specific line for a specific word and improving on that," says Hertz. “Really it’s a safe way of doing what we’ve always been doing and a really fast way too."

To take part in the survey, producers visit canada.ca/en/health-canada. 

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