GMOs: Ottawa presents its reform using the files of an agrochemical lobby
With this controversial reform bill, the seed industry would escape controls and the obligation of transparency.
Siddika Mithani is President of the Canadian food inspection since 2019.
Did the agrichemical lobby help draft a controversial federal reform bill to facilitate the commercialization of a new generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Two documents under embargo from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), obtained by Radio-Canada, sow doubt among interest groups that received them.
The government's Word files, on which the reform is presented, are authored by a director general of the CropLife Canada lobby, Jennifer Hubert, who defends the interests of companies that market seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and fertilizers.
Among the recipients of the document presenting the reform project, under embargo, we find interest groups from the agri-food world, but also officials from Health Canada and Agriculture Canada.
French document properties in Microsoft Word
File origin, attributed to Jennifer Hubert according to the properties of Word, does not make it possible to demonstrate whether the final version of the written content comes from it. The French file was created on August 4 and last edited by the CFIA the following day. The English file was created on July 29 and last edited by the CFIA on August 5.
Among the recipients of the federal document were Vigilance OGM, an organization that campaigns for more transparency and for the application of the precautionary principle in all areas related to GMOs. According to the organization's coordinator, Thibault Rehn, the name of one of CropLife Canada's executive directors is not there by chance.
Even if we do not know what part it had, it is still outrageous that the industry is behind this document, he says.
“I understand that these people are consulted. But it is hoped that the government does not directly use documents written by the GMO and pesticide lobbies as the basis for significant regulatory changes. »
— Thibault Rehn, coordinator of Vigilance OGM
GMO seeds make it possible to grow plants resistant to one or more herbicides, which makes it possible to kill weeds without harming the cultivated plant.
The reform project in question aims to exempt from reviewscertain seeds resulting from genome editing, a new generation of genetically modified organisms. Moreover, the seed industry would no longer have the obligation to declare, it would be voluntary transparency.
The final version of the proposed reform will be made public in the coming weeks, announced the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The Government of Quebec, the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) and the Food Processing Council (CTAQ) are concerned that this reform threatens the integrity of organic products, since x27;we could no longer prove that their production was made without recourse to genetic engineering.
The federal government continues to work on its reform project and ensures that it is “assessing options to facilitate the maintenance of […] organic certifications”.
“As the document is still in development and consultations are ongoing, it is too early to comment on any findings. »
— Joint Statement from the Offices of the Federal Ministers of Health and Agriculture
Contacted by Radio-Canada, Jennifer Hubert responded first that she was not the one who wrote the document. “There may be a mistake,” she said over the phone.
“We certainly sent them documents [to the CFIA] with information to take into consideration for the draft guidelines, but there is definitely some kind of error. […] I can tell you, 100%, that they were not created by me.
— Jennifer Hubert, General Manager, Plant Biotechnology, CropLife Canada
As the document was discussed, however, Jennifer Hubert said that maybe at some point I provided edits. She added: We have provided suggestions and recommendations and have definitely worked with the CFIA over the past few years on these guidelines.
“We worked with the CFIA to make sure the language was clear to plant developers […]. We did this at different stages and on different documents. »
— Jennifer Hubert, General Manager, Plant Biotechnology, CropLife Canada
She later backtracked and said: I wouldn't say we provided reviews, but rather suggestions on how we interpret what is in the guidelines. And, questions for clarification.
Prior to working for CropLife, Ms. Hubert was employed by Syngenta and Monsanto.
Canada is the world's largest producer of GMO canola.
The day after our telephone conversation, the lobby wrote us an email to claim that CropLife Canada employees were not involved in the creation of this document.
Vice President of Communications Erin O'Hara added that, however, as our trade association represents the plant science industry, CropLife Canada regularly contributes to government policies that impact our members, before us < /strong>refer to CFIA for details.
Independence :< /strong> a core value of the CFIA
On the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's website, its statement of values states that as a regulator, we are careful to protect our independence from stakeholders. external. We have the courage to make difficult decisions, which may not please, and to make recommendations without regard to our opinion.
The CFIA, which reports to Health Canada, says its plant biosafety office [who] wrote the initial version of the document and that external parties, including industry associations, are not the authors. CFIA documents.
“The draft of this document served as the basis for discussions with many key stakeholders in summer 2022, including CropLife Canada, as well as non-profit organizations and organic associations. A copy of the document has been shared with industry associations representing seed developers for their initial feedback.
—Canadian Food Inspection Agency
The agency explains that it elaborated its responses to comments in one of the copies it received, which would explain why the metadata indicates that Jennifer Hubert is the author.
The opinion of an IT expert
The computer security expert at Okiok, François Daigle, recalls that the author of a file is not necessarily the author of the final content of this file. All the lines may have been changed.
But, according to him, it is not good practice to do this, especially in government: Usually, when; we issue an official document, a final document, we erase these properties, the history, to keep only the last author of the content.
Moreover, according to the expert, it is rare that we start from a blank file when we are in iteration mode, discussion, exchange between partners.
< p class="e-p">The Council for Reserved Designations and Enhanced Terms, which accredits inspectors certifying organic products, claims that it was not consulted by the federal government in the preparation of this reform
We were never consulted, also says Christine Jean, vice-president of the Quebec Food Processing Council (CTAQ), which represents 13 associations and 600 companies.
“It kind of came out of a loot box.” Which is surprising, because processors are directly concerned. »
— Christine Jean, vice-president of the Quebec Food Processing Council
Ms. Jean draws a parallel with the federal government's proposal to increase the quantities of pesticides allowed in the cultivation of legumes, an issue that caused a scandal in the summer of 2021. Ottawa had admitted that it was the pesticide industry that had requested the change.
For its part, the Filière Biologique du Québec was consulted, but its regulatory monitoring consultant, Christian Legault, notes that CFIA officials have not taken into account, at any time, [his] comments.
According to him, the reform only serves the seed industry. It doesn't serve consumers, it doesn't serve processors and it certainly doesn't serve organic producers.
The logos from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and CropLife Canada
Thibault Rehn, of Vigilance OGM, denounces the close links he perceives between the public service and the lobby, through what he calls revolving doors.
< p class="e-p">Browsing the LinkedIn network, Radio-Canada found four CropLife executives who had worked in the federal government on related files.
- Ian Affleck, Vice -President, Plant Biotechnology, was an executive with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency until 2014.
- Pierre Petelle, CEO, worked until 2008 at Health Canada on the pesticide file, within the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
- Terri Stewart, Director General, Chemistry, worked at Health Canada on agriculture files until 2019.
- Émilie Bergeron, Vice-President, Chemistry, worked at Agriculture Canada until 2017. Subsequently, she was responsible for the pesticide file at Global Affairs Canada until 2018.
- Darell M. Pack, Director, Provincial Regulatory Affairs – who left his post a few days ago – previously worked for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as a director.
Federal regulators make decisions based on science, the lobby responds. CropLife Canada employees, who come from a variety of backgrounds, draw on sound scientific knowledge and expertise that they use to support the development of government policies that support sustainable agriculture.
Between November 2021 and June 2022, the Federal Registry of Lobbyists indicates that there were 44 CropLife meetings with the federal government, including 17 with Health Canada and 2 with Cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The vice-president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Sylvie Lapointe, was the subject of a direct meeting. In addition, on June 6, CropLife spoke with François-Olivier Picard, political advisor to the Minister of Health, Pierre-Yves Duclos, who is responsible for the CFIA.
Federal Minister of Health, responsible for CFIA, Jean-Yves Duclos
The CropLife 2020-2021 Annual Report states that the lobby claims to have convinced the federal government to make this change: This advocacy resulted in Health Canada introducing new science-based policies that encourage innovation, which were submitted to the Canadian public for consultation. During this consultation, Health Canada publicly stated that gene editing was safe and should be treated like conventional breeding.
Health Canada has previously been criticized for s be largely based on studies and documents submitted by the industry to maintain the registration of glyphosate in 2017.
In an interview with Radio-Canada, the Ministry also admitted to authorizing pesticides based on manufacturer studies.