Officials meet to discuss low-level GMO contamination

Government and farm officials are continuing their efforts to bring some clarity to the contentious issue of low-level presence of genetically modified organisms, but it’s not clear how much progress is being made.

Officials from exporting and importing countries recently met in Vancouver to discuss how to prevent trade disruptions when trace levels of a GMO are found because of unintentional mixing during handling or transporting of a shipment.

Finding a way to deal with low-level presence (or LLP) has been one of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s pet projects in his campaign to remove barriers to Canadian agri-food exports.

Governments and industry need to find a way to “free up the pathways of global trade for the good of our customers, our farmers and our industries,” Ritz said at the Vancouver meeting. “By making sure that regulations and policies are rooted in sound science, we improve the predictability and stability of trade.

“A workable policy on LLP is critical to prevent the serious trade impediments that can arise when different countries approve products at different times.”

As expected, no communiqué was issued at the conclusion of the meeting and there’s no talk yet of drafting an international agreement — although that is the ultimate goal.

The meeting attracted officials from 16 countries and lasted three days, two of which were spent behind closed doors, said Jim Everson, vice-president of the Canola Council of Canada.

“The industry walked the officials through all the big issues connected with LLP,” said Everson. “There was a good discussion of the technical requirements for an agreement. The number of GMO products will increase in the future.”

That point was raised by Ritz, who said the global food sectors “need regulations that foster, not frustrate.”

“More and more countries are committing to the use of innovative agricultural technologies to meet growing demand for food and feed,” Ritz told the delegates. “This makes it all the more critical that we have timely, science-based approaches to approvals and trade rules. We must root out unscientific measures that restrict trade and keep safe, high-quality food from getting where it’s needed.”

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