Golden Rice gets OK from Canada

Health Canada has approved the sale of a genetically modified crop that isn’t intended for sale in this country, and that has a GMO critic wondering what is going on.

On March 16, the federal department gave the regulatory nod to Provitamin A Biofortified Rice Event GR2E, otherwise known as Golden Rice.

“It was determined that the changes made in this rice variety did not pose a greater risk to human health than rice varieties currently available on the Canadian market,” the department said in its decision document.

Golden Rice was created to help children in developing countries suffering from vitamin A deficiency. The rice contains high levels of provitamin A.

The International Rice Research Institute has received regulatory approval for the product in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, despite declaring it has no intention to sell Golden Rice in those markets.

The institute’s real goal is to achieve regulatory approval to grow and sell the rice in the Philippines, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia, but it has yet to submit applications in those markets.

Proponents of biotechnology believe Golden Rice can help them in the publicity battle over genetically modified crops because it is designed to help address child malnutrition in developing countries rather than controlling weeds or insects.

Critics of GM crops such as Greenpeace don’t want to see Golden Rice commercialized in developing countries because it could pave the way for the cultivation of other GM crops.

Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), can’t fathom why Canada is weighing in on the issue at all.

“What is the rationale behind Health Canada assessing genetically engineered products that are not designed for Canada?” she said.

A spokesperson for Health Canada said the department is obligated by law to review all novel food submissions it receives.

Sharratt said she received a different response in a letter from Health Canada, which said developers of GM crops often seek authorization in Canada as a first step, even if they do not to plan to sell the product in Canada.

“This answer raises new questions and concerns about what the purpose of our regulatory system is,” said Sharratt.

“Are we providing a global regulatory service for developers even when there is no direct benefit to Canadians?”

CBAN has heard from a farmer network in the Philippines that a loophole in that country’s regulatory system would allow proponents of Golden Rice to use the Health Canada ruling as a “safety stamp” to start feeding trials with children and pregnant women and get the ball rolling on a regulatory submission.

“There should be some criteria that the Canadian government puts in place such that Health Canada is not spending precious financial and human resources on products that are just not going to be part of Canadian food and farming,” Sharratt said.

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