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Canada relaxes rules governing gene-edited crops

20 September 2022 Akashpratim Mukhopadhyay

Canadian health regulator Health Canada has published a fresh set of guidelines on gene-edited crops. The new instructions cover gene-edited crops that meet the criteria set for food that is not considered novel food could be treated the same way as conventional crops. That would mean they would not be required to go through the pre-market safety evaluation applied for genetically modified crops.

The new regulations intend to enhance the understanding of the country's Novel Food Regulations, which Health Canada says could be interpreted to define many foods derived from GM plants - including some conventionally bred products - as "novel", thereby requiring pre-market notification and safety assessment prior to sale. The development marks the first update to the guidance document since 2006.

The regulator points out that since that time, technological advancements have created new tools of genetic modification by which new plant varieties can be developed. It cites gene editing technologies as an example. Consequently, developers expressed the need for the Novel Food Regulations to be clearer, more predictable, and more transparent regarding products of plant breeding, including those developed using these new tools of modification, it says.

Health Canada notes that past interpretations of the rules have not considered whether breeding methods used for plant development are characterised as safe while determining whether pre-market notification and assessment requirements were applicable for food items. Therefore, it lays down five categories that are to be exempted from requirements set aside for novel foods. These include foods derived from GM plants that: do not alter an endogenous protein in a manner that introduces or increases similarity with a known allergen or toxin relevant to human health; do not increase levels of a known endogenous allergen, a known endogenous toxin, or a known endogenous anti-nutrient beyond documented ranges; do not have an impact on key nutritional composition and/or metabolism; do not intentionally change the food use of the plant; and do not result in presence of foreign DNA in the final plant product.

The regulator observes that food products falling under the five categories do not possess characteristics that "meet the threshold of novelty" to come under the definition of novel food.

Transparency initiative

Health Canada has also unveiled a voluntary transparency initiative (TI) focusing on gene-edited plants that are developed for food use, but do not classify as novel food. The department notes that the programme will enable developers to furnish it with "concise information" about their products, allowing the public to have information on the types of gene-edited plant products that may be used as food in the country.

Posted 20 September 2022 by Akashpratim Mukhopadhyay, Senior Journalist, Crop Science Market Reporting, S&P Global Commodity Insights



This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.

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