Agri-food groups are welcoming Canada’s work in formulating an international statement supporting biotechnology and regulatory agreements that support the technology and minimize trade disruptions.
“Growers are excited about the potential of new plant-breeding innovations,” said Jeff Nielsen, president of Grain Growers of Canada. “We look forward to also seeing progress here at home.”
New tools like gene editing systems could bring new varieties to the market faster and with lower costs than ever before, he said.
“These varieties have the potential to be higher yielding, healthier for consumers and the environment, and improve food security while continuing to maintain Canada’s high expectations for safety,” Nielsen said.
Frank Annau, the environmental and science policy adviser of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said the statement, in line with CFA’s standing policy on biotech, and consumer education has been an important focus of the federation’s work in public trust.
Pierre Petelle, president and CEO of CropLife Canada, said, the statement recognizes the important role that plant-breeding innovations like gene editing play in advancing agriculture. He also noted precision biotechnology techniques constitute an essential tool for agricultural innovation.
“Their use provides farmers with access to products that increase productivity while preserving environmental sustainability,” he said.
Endorsing it shows the federal government “recognizes that Canadian innovation has helped make our country a leader in producing safe, high-quality products and we are committed to fostering innovation in the agricultural sector – here in Canada and beyond.”
Serge Buy, CEO of the Agriculture Institute of Canada, said participating in the statement showcases Canada’s efforts to raise international support for biotechnology and other innovation in agriculture.
“It is probably to offset some of the measures from Europe against certain products,” he said. “We are supportive of any efforts to support scientific advances in agriculture. This seems to be one.”
Canada joined Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Jordan, Paraguay, the United States, Uruguay, Vietnam, and the Secretariat of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in supporting the International Statement on Agricultural Applications of Precision Biotechnology. European countries were conspicuously absent from the list of supporters.
The statement calls on governments around the world to “strive for functional, risk-based regulatory approaches that encourage innovation and facilitate trade if we are to more effectively unlock the benefits from the latest scientific advances such as gene editing.”
Biotech offers better tools to help address major worldwide challenges such as climate change, pest and disease pressures, and food security, it said. At the same time, consumer demand for healthier, higher-quality foods at affordable prices continues to grow, putting pressure on farmers to be more efficient.
“It is critical that regulatory frameworks be rooted in science, protect animal and plant health as well as the environment, while ensuring only safe products get to market,” the statement said. “It is also important that they are transparent, predictable, and focus oversight on those products that pose potential risk. Governments must create an enabling environment in which all players are able to take advantage of advances in innovation.”
Last year, 24 countries grew biotech crops and 43 additional countries imported them. The main ones are soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola.
Argentina presented the statement to the committee on sanitary and phytosanitary measures of the World Trade Organization on behalf of the signatories. The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) said the statement originated at a seminary it held in Cali, Colombia back in April.
Pedro Rocha, IICA’s international specialist on biotechnology and biosafety, said increasing precision of biotechnology “can be used to leverage the detailed knowledge of the genome and of the molecular biology of various agricultural organisms.”
It can also duplicate genome changes that could have occurred naturally in the past, although over a much longer period of time, he said. “In consequence, many of the products generated by these novel techniques are not necessarily equivalent to genetically modified (GM) products, that is to say, they are not transgenic.”
Based on the work at last year’s IICA seminar in Colombia and under Argentine leadership, the signatories developed the statement “a set of principles that provide for regulatory frameworks that facilitate trade and encourage agriculture innovation, while meeting regulatory objectives.”