Regarding the column “Gene editing a risk communication fiasco in the making,” Manitoba Co-operator, July 22, 2020.
Sylvain Charlebois is right: our industry did a poor job of communicating to the public about GMOs. As a result, misinformation about the safety and benefits of the technology continue to persist almost 25 years later despite the fact GMOs have helped make farmers more environmentally friendly than ever before while at the same time enjoying a remarkable safety record.
Our industry is committed to doing better this time around, by being more transparent and by talking directly to consumers who we know have a keen interest in how their food is produced.
Let’s start with explaining exactly what gene editing is. Where GMO crops have, for the most part, incorporated DNA from one organism into another to make a positive change, gene editing allows scientists to work within a plant’s own genetic code. Gene editing focuses on making improvements that could occur in nature but makes them in a more precise and efficient way, allowing scientists to adapt to the changing needs of farmers, consumers, and the environment.
As Charlebois acknowledges, gene editing will provide us with improved plants offering important benefits. While GMOs have largely delivered crops with benefits directed at farmers, gene editing has the potential to lead to a wider variety of crops with benefits that directly touch consumers, including foods with enhanced nutritional profiles. From non-browning mushrooms to high-fibre, low-gluten wheat, the potential improvements are exciting.
While Health Canada is currently determining exactly how to manage gene editing, what’s important to note is that all food in Canada, no matter how it is produced, must comply with rigorous regulations for health and safety. Health Canada has done an excellent job safeguarding the health and safety of Canadians while enabling new innovations to come to market and we are confident that it will be no different with gene editing.
President, CropLife Canada