Today, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, announced updated guidance for seed regulations that will provide clear direction for plant breeders so that Canadian farmers can access new seed varieties, enhance sustainable food production and be more resilient in the face of today’s challenges. The Government of Canada is also strengthening transparency measures for products of plant breeding innovation and investing in the Canadian Organic Standards to protect the integrity of the organic sector.
Plant breeding innovations allow new plant varieties to be developed more effectively and efficiently than through conventional breeding. This can benefit farmers and consumers by providing them with access to plants and seeds that are both safe for humans, animals, and the environment. These varieties can also be more resistant to extreme temperature, precipitation, and insects, helping us adapt to climate change, feed a growing population and keep food costs down for consumers.
Through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)’s updated guidance for Part V of the Seeds Regulations, seed developers will be able to confidently invest in new products while maintaining the high standard of safety that Canada is known for domestically and internationally.
This update builds on a similar update last year to the Novel Food Regulations by Health Canada.
To help maintain the integrity of organic certifications, which allow the use of conventional seed but not gene edited seed, the government is announcing a series of measures to ensure transparency in how the seed is produced. Firstly, the creation of a Government-Industry Steering Committee on Plant Breeding Innovations Transparency to facilitate ongoing discussions as gene-edited products are introduced in the marketplace. Secondly, the expansion of the Seeds Canada Canadian Variety Transparency Database to provide transparency around individual seed varieties. Thirdly, federal oversight of the Canadian Variety Transparency Database to ensure the completeness and robustness of the database.
These measures are informed by the recommendations and the work of the Industry-Government Technical Committee on Plant Breeding Innovation Transparency, which is comprised of members from the organic, conventional, and seed sectors, as well as officials from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada. Their continued engagement will enable the Canadian Variety Transparency Database to succeed, ensuring the transparency of seed innovations in Canada.
In addition to these measures, Minister Bibeau announced that the Government will once again provide funding to support the review of Canada’s organic standards, which are updated every five years and due for renewal in 2025.
The United States, Japan, Australia, Argentina and Brazil have clarified the pathway for gene-edited products. New Zealand, the UK and the European Union (EU) are in the process of doing so.
The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the health and safety of Canadians and the environment through science and evidence-based decision-making, and recognizes that new plant breeding innovations, including gene-editing, allow new plant varieties to be developed more efficiently than conventional breeding.
“As the agriculture sector faces the challenge of feeding a growing world population in the midst of climate change, innovation is an incomparable tool to increase our production safely and sustainably. While facilitating the development of new plant varieties from plant breeding innovations, in light of discussions with the government-industry committee, we will protect the integrity of organic certification.”
- The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
“The Canadian Federation of Agriculture supports the release of CFIA’s new guidance on plant breeding innovation and ongoing commitment to transparency for producers. This will ultimately help Canadian farmers access new plant varieties that are more resilient to pests and extreme weather events and support our food security and sustainability objectives. The news that AAFC will help fund a review of the Canadian Organic Standards is also a welcome announcement. These two elements will help ensure farmers can continue to make informed decisions on what they produce.”
- Keith Currie, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture
About the updated guidance:
- Plant breeders have always been responsible for notifying the CFIA of all novel plants. This is still the case.
- The updated guidance responds to an identified need for improved clarity about how gene-edited plants are regulated and took into consideration feedback from a four-month consultation in 2021.
- Plants that require assessment from the CFIA include:
- plants to which DNA from another species (foreign DNA) has been introduced and
- plants that have the capacity to negatively impact the environment.
- Health Canada updated its guidance for plant breeding for novel foods in 2022.
About the government-industry committee
- AAFC established the industry-Government Technical Committee on Plant Breeding Innovation Transparency in January 2023 to strengthen transparency for products of plant breeding innovation.
- The committee included members of the organic, conventional, and seed sectors (Canada Grains Council, Canada Organic Trade Association, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Canadian Organic Growers, CropLife Canada, Filière biologique du Québec, Organic Federation of Canada, Seeds Canada, Soy Canada, and l’Union des producteurs agricoles), as well as officials from AAFC, CFIA and Health Canada.
- AAFC will be contacting members of the Technical Committee to solicit recommendations for industry participation on the Government-Industry Steering Committee on Plant Breeding Innovation Transparency.
About Seeds Canada Database
- Seeds Canada launched its Canadian Variety Transparency Database in October 2022. The database was developed in part with $181,000 in funding under the AgriAssurance Program as an additional level of transparency for gene-edited varieties which can be used by the value chain to verify which commercially available varieties are gene-edited.
About the Canadian Organic Standards
- The Canadian Organic Standards are a detailed set of principles, guidelines, and permitted substances that are used in the organic certification process. The Standards prohibit the use of any genetic engineering or gene edited material in crop and livestock production.
- The Canadian Organic Standards are updated every five years by the Canadian General Standards Board, with input from the organic industry and the CFIA. The standards were last updated in 2020.
- The Organic Federation of Canada is a national organization responsible for the maintenance and interpretation of the Canadian Organic Standards and the administration of scientific research in organic agriculture in Canada.
About the role of Health Canada
- Health Canada and the CFIA worked closely on the development of each guidance document. Both organizations are aligned on their science-based and risk-based approaches. Consistency in federal approaches allows plant breeders to readily navigate the Canadian regulatory system in a timely manner.
(Government of Canada News Release)