Go forth and develop!
Earlier this year, Health Canada released regulatory guidance for so-called novel foods. The guidance is part of larger effort to overhaul the country’s regulations of plant-breeding innovation, including gene-edited crops. Some readers may be more familiar with the name CRISPR, a relatively new method of easily altering DNA sequences and modifying gene function. Health Canada’s team reviewed the research currently available and reached a blunt conclusion: gene-edited crops are safe for human consumption and the environment.
It’s a strong statement. Health Canada is the country’s governmental department responsible for national health policy. It oversees several health-related agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It has traditionally regulated genetically modified crops.
For context, Sonny Perdue’s USDA reached the same conclusion in 2018. In a press release announcing that these techniques would be regulated just like conventional breeding methods, the agency said:
This includes a set of new techniques that are increasingly being used by plant breeders to produce new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods. The newest of these methods, such as genome editing, expand traditional plant breeding tools because they can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely, potentially saving years or even decades in bringing needed new varieties to farmers.”USDA, March 28, 2018,
The United States government also reviewed and simplified regulations of genetically modified crops, including some clarification of what agencies or departments will play a role.
Genetically modified crops have faced plenty of controversies over the last decade. Statewide labeling campaigns transformed into federal labeling laws. Some counties in California banned cultivation of GMOs. And the non-GMO label is popular. Yet there seems to be stronger statements from the scientific community in support of these crops and breeding techniques.
Health Canada’s statement fits this mold. It’s also compelling that it doesn’t want to over regulate these scientific techniques that have delayed commercialization of some GMOs. The technology is here. By all accounts it’s safe. And we need to let it play out.