Seed World

Canada’s Ag Minister Confirms What Seed Industry Stakeholders Have Hoped For With Regard to Gene Editing

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

In a virtual press conference today, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau confirmed that new plant varieties will not trigger Plants with Novel Traits (PNT) legislation so long as they don’t express a commercially-viable herbicide tolerance trait and include foreign DNA.

The confirmation was part of a larger announcement regarding the Seeds Canada public database, which will be expanded to identify seed varieties created using gene editing.

According to a government news release, through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)’s updated guidance for Part V of the Seeds Regulations, seed developers will be able to confidently invest in new products while maintaining the high standard of safety that Canada is known for domestically and internationally.

This update builds on a similar update last year to the Novel Food Regulations by Health Canada, the release said.

The government has announced measures to maintain the integrity of organic certifications, which prohibit the use of gene-edited seeds but allow conventional seeds. These measures aim to promote transparency in seed production. Firstly, a Government-Industry Steering Committee on Plant Breeding Innovations Transparency will be created to facilitate ongoing discussions as gene-edited products are introduced in the market.

Secondly, the Seeds Canada Canadian Variety Transparency Database will be expanded to provide transparency around individual seed varieties. Thirdly, federal oversight of the Canadian Variety Transparency Database will be implemented.

These measures were informed by the Industry-Government Technical Committee on Plant Breeding Innovation Transparency, which consists of members from the organic, conventional, and seed sectors, as well as officials from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and Health Canada. Their continued engagement will enable the Canadian Variety Transparency Database to succeed, ensuring the transparency of seed innovations in Canada.

In addition to these measures, the government will provide funding to support the review of Canada’s organic standards, which are updated every five years and due for renewal in 2025.

The United States, Japan, Australia, Argentina, and Brazil have already clarified the pathway for gene-edited products, while New Zealand, the UK, and the European Union (EU) are currently in the process of doing so, the federal government noted in its news release.

Stay tuned for more info on the ramifications of today’s announcement.