Canadian regulators propose allowing low level unapproved GMO contamination in imported products

Canadian regulators propose allowing low level unapproved GMO contamination in imported products

The Canadian government is considering changes to the rules governing GMO imports to allow a "low level presence" of GM contamination in food.

Food containing GMOs is only allowed into Canada if it has been assessed as safe by regulator Health Canada. Under the proposed changes, low levels of GM ingredients will be allowable if the cultivation of the GMO has been approved in a foreign jurisdiction that Health Canada deems trustworthy.

Canada's agriculture department, Agriculture and Agrifood Canada, said it anticipates the number of GMOs in foods to rise in the coming years. "Governments as well as public and private institutions around the world are actively seeking ways to increase agricultural productivity and make other useful improvements to crops. In support of these efforts, it is expected that the number and variety of genetically modified products commercialised will continue to increase," the body noted.

Once a foreign jurisdiction allows the cultivation of GM crops, cross contamination of non-GM crops becomes likely. The regulations regarding the low level presence, or LLP, of GMOs is designed to address this issue. The revised framework aims to promote trade and remove barriers to the import of foodstuffs from territories where GM crops are cultivated, Agriculture Canada said.

"While the government of Canada continues to encourage developers of new GM crops to seek full authorisation in Canada, the government recognises that internationally synchronised approvals of GM crops may not always be feasible. Therefore, the government of Canada is developing a policy and implementation framework that provides a more predictable, pragmatic approach to managing LLP in imported grain, food and feed."

The proposals have, however, attracted criticism from pressure group the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). "This trade policy is unjustifiable from a health and safety perspective," said Lucy Sharratt of CBAN. "Health Canada’s assessment of GM food safety should be applied to all the GM foods Canadians eat. The government should not create any exceptions to its own safety assessments of GM foods."

CBAN argues that, to protect Canada’s export trade, the LLP policy proposal should be replaced by increased efforts to segregate GM and non-GM crops, and the inclusion of an assessment of potential export market harm before GM crops are approved in Canada.