Ag Canada debates GM threshold


Developing policy The department is deciding on maximum GM content allowed

Canada is leading an international effort to create rules for dealing with low-level unintended and unapproved GMO contamination in commodity shipments, but it is also edging toward creating its own standards.


A recommendation to ministers on an appropriate Canadian policy to deal with low-level presence in im-ported shipments into Canada could be ready sometime next year, a senior bureaucrat involved in the process said last week.


“It is an internal process and we are proceeding toward a recommendation,” Emilie Bergeron, acting deputy director of Agriculture Canada’s technical trade policy division, said Nov. 21 after a speech to an annual grain symposium in Ottawa.

“The objective is to minimize the disruption of trade and to create more predictability.”


She said options still on the table are whether to set the threshold level at 0.1 or 0.2 percent content in a shipment.


A cross-departmental government group has been working on a proposed policy for months. It includes representatives from Agriculture Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Canadian Grain Commission, Environment Canada, Health Canada and the foreign affairs and international trade department.


She said that under the developing policy proposal, detection of low-level presence would trigger a government assessment of whether the unauthorized GM content “is unlikely to pose a risk to human or animal health or the environment.”


For the past several years, Canada has been leading an international effort that now includes 14 exporting and importing countries to develop international rules on the issue. Canada’s lack of policy has been noted in the debate, at home and abroad.


“If we can develop and implement a policy, I think we can be an example to the world,” Bergeron told re-porters after her speech to the symposium organized by the Canada Grains Council and Grain Growers of Canada.


Low-level presence has become a significant issue for commodity exporters.


Commodity shipments that contain minuscule traces of GMOs from the residue of a previous shipment may be blocked at import ports.


At a House of Commons agriculture committee meeting Nov. 20, Canola Council of Canada vice-president Jim Everson offered an example of the damage the lack of rules and zero tolerance can cause to exporters.


He told the story of a shipload of soybeans that was found at port to have traces of GM corn that had not been approved in the importing market.


“It’s unintentionally there,” he said. “It’s picked up because of air around a port. And that stopped a vessel worth millions, some (shipments) are worth $20 million or $25 million, for no good reason.”


He said no GM product is shipped if it has not been approved using international scientific standards in at least one country, so these traces are not from rogue GM products but traces from a product not approved for sale in the importing country.


Canadian flax exporters felt the sting of that when unapproved traces of a withdrawn GM variety, Triffid, showed up in shipments several years ago, closing a number of borders.


Bergeron said Canada’s push on an international and domestic low-level presence policy was underway long before the Triffid incident, “but it did concentrate our minds as a real live example.”