Canola council hopes for quick action on gene editing

Industry says Canada is falling dangerously behind trade partners in determining how the technology will be treated

The Canola Council of Canada has an extensive wish list for the federal government this Christmas season.

One of the items topping the list is regulatory reform.

Council president Jim Everson told delegates attending the Canola Industry Meeting that Ottawa needs to quickly figure out how it will be regulating gene editing breeding techniques.

Canada is falling dangerously behind trade partners like the United States, Australia, Japan and many South American countries in determining how technologies such as CRISPR will be treated. Many countries have decided they will not require extra scrutiny.

“Canada is in urgent need of clear and predictable requirements for the pre-market assessment of gene-edited crops,” he said.

The industry is proposing Canadian regulators adopt a tiered system where low risk technologies do not require the same level of scrutiny as others.

Everson said seed technology transformed the canola industry and he worries Canada will lose out on future investment if the government continues to drag its feet on how it will handle gene editing.

The council would also like Ottawa to devote more resources to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency because it is dealing with a big workload of re-evaluations of existing crop protection products and a steady stream of new products.

“The pipeline for innovation is very significant. There is, thankfully, new innovation coming along all the time,” Everson said in an interview following his presentation.

“Our prognosis is that the (PMRA) needs more resources.”

The council also wants to see the PMRA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency taking on bigger leadership roles in promoting science-based decision-making through international organizations such as CODEX.

On the environment file, the council would like the federal government to recognize the contributions canola can make through biodiesel, which lowers greenhouse gases by up to 90 percent compared to regular diesel.

“Why is it not a national priority to use Canadian agriculture feedstocks in our domestic diesel fuel supply?” said Everson.

He believes Ottawa’s proposed Clean Fuel Standard should include incentives to use canola biodiesel.

The top priority for the council is to regain total market access to China. Seed sales to that market are about one-quarter of what they used to be.

“The situation is complex to say the least,” said Everson.

“Political tensions between Canada and China, having nothing to do with canola, are at play.”

The council is also focusing on practical tasks that are within its control, such as addressing China’s ostensible pest concerns through science.

“That’s in our swimming lane. That is something that we can do and that we need to do,” said Everson.

The council will also be supporting the federal government in its efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the dispute.

In the meantime, it is urging the government to deploy technical experts to posts in Asia where they can develop relationships with regulators in host countries so they can address future concerns before they “harden into trade barriers.”

“When the host country’s regulators are familiar with Canadian specialists, there’s an element of trust and credibility, which may not exist without that proactivity,” said Everson.

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