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Canada Working On Low-Level GM Presence Policy

Just a trace of an unapproved genetically modified (GM) plant can close borders costing grain traders and farmers millions in lost sales, something Canada knows all too well.

In 2009 flax exports to the European Union (EU) were disrupted after they were found to contain low levels of CDC Triffid, a GM flax approved in Canada but not the EU. Now the Canadian government is working to find ways it and other countries can avoid similar trade disruptions.

We raise low level of presence every chance we get, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told reporters Oct. 13 from Germany during a teleconference.

Meanwhile, the government is looking at changes to its own low-level presence policy, which is currently the same as the EU s zero tolerance for GM traits not approved by Canada even though they ve been approved elsewhere.

Well, you can t point at anyone else when your own standard is zero (tolerance), Ritz said. We have begun the process of moving away from zero to help strengthen our commitment to this. We re working out the details.

To that end a Publ i c Consultation Document has been released by the government s multi-department Working Group on Low Level Presence.

The paper says given the increase in GM crops around the world cases of low-level presence are sure to increase. The Government of Canada is proactively looking at ways to enhance an effective regulatory system that protects human and animal health and the environment, while not unnecessarily impeding innovation and trade.

The Canadian government suggests three approaches:

” A 0.1 per cent action level would be set for imported products, below which action would not be taken.

” Apply an interim threshold for low-level presence for products where a data package has been submitted to Canadian authorities for approval.

The interim threshold would be set if certain conditions are met and remain until an assessment of the data is complete.

” Apply appropriate case-by-case thresholds for low-level presence in products imported into Canada. This would allow low-level presence to enter the country below a certain minimal threshold for an indefinite period rather than on a temporary basis.

In this case, Canadian regulators would collect all relevant safety information to do a risk assessment. If the assessment finds the low-level presence is unlikely to pose a health or safety risk, then a case-by-case threshold will be implemented.

Canada Grains Council administrator, Dennis Stephens, said in an interview that it makes sense to have reasonable tolerances for GM crops that have been approved elsewhere.

Once a GM crop has been approved and is being grown by a country s farmers it s only a matter of time before it will start showing up in international shipments, he said.

Stephens was in Paraguay last week discussing low-level presence with the grain industry officials from Latin America.

Canada will also host an international conference on low-level presence later this winter or in early spring, Ritz said.

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About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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