For the last year, the organic sector, civil society, farmers unions and Canadian citizens have been expressing critical concerns regarding imminent proposals from Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to exempt many new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from regulation. Most imminent of these is the planned publication of the Guidance for the Seed Act, which will mark the official approval of the proposed exemption for seeds. This exemption would jeopardize food and environmental safety and eliminate the limited transparency on genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) foods and seeds that currently exists. It would threaten the organic industry’s ability to protect itself from GMOs. Swift action is necessary to prevent Canadian regulators from causing undue harm.
The Canada Organic Standards prohibit GMOs. Organic farming is a holistic way of producing products and protecting the Earth by caring for the soil, water, animals and air. Organic food is a non-GMO choice that many consumers highly value. This is under threat from new federal government decisions by Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.
Unregulated GMOs would be secret GMOs: Product developers would retain proprietary and confidential rights over all information regarding new unregulated GMOs entering the market and would not be required to provide any information to the federal government. This would remove the current process that exists that allows organic farmers to find out which seeds are produced using genetic modification technologies and empowers consumers to have a choice in the foods they consume.
Executive Director, Canada Organic Trade Association
Currently, all seeds defined as Plants with Novel Traits (GMO and others) must be assessed by the CFIA before being released into the environment. Obtaining CFIA approval requires regulatory assessment of a ‘data package’ from the product developer that may contain science from field or laboratory experiments and could involve a scan of relevant peer-reviewed literature. Once GMO seeds are approved as Plants with Novel Traits by CFIA, they are listed on the CFIA website publicly so farmers and consumers know which GMOs to avoid, should they choose to. Current proposals from Health Canada and CFIA look to largely eliminate regulatory checks and reporting, stripping farmers and consumers alike of the ability to choose.
All organic standards worldwide ban the use of GMOs. It is one of the most known and harmonized aspects of organic regulations globally. Allowing private industry to release GM products into the market with no regulatory pre-approval, consumer reporting responsibility or market labelling requirements poses a significant threat to the fastest growing form of agriculture and consumer demand nationally – organic agriculture (two-thirds of Canadians are buying organic weekly).
The current CFIA system allows organic farmers to know which GM seeds are approved in Canada so they can avoid purchasing GM seeds and plan accordingly to avoid unintentional contamination by implementing buffer zones and co-ordinating planting times to mitigate contamination from a neighbour’s usage of GMOs.
Already organic farmers bear the economic hardships of keeping GMOs out – by putting some crop land aside to act as a contamination buffer, laboratory testing to ensure no contamination and more labour investment. We must ensure that organic farmers have a choice to farm organically and protect consumers’ rights to choose what they consume every day. The Canadian government’s proposed deregulation of GMOs presents significant challenges to organic farmers growing in accordance with national and international organic standards when secret GMOs are in existence all around them.
In light of all the threats on the horizon, organic farmers, businesses and consumers are uniting to confront the risks that deregulation poses.
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA). The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.