Organic products are threatened by a federal reform, according to Quebec

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Organic products are threatened by a federal reform, according to Quebec

Ottawa wants to exempt a new generation of x27;GMO safety assessment and mandatory declaration.

Genome editing can develop resistant hens to bird flu.

The Government of Quebec is concerned about a project by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), passed unnoticed, which would jeopardize the organic certification of products.

In a letter obtained by Radio-Canada, the province asks the federal government to reconsider its change in regulations. This reform aims to exempt the seed industry from the obligation to declare and have certain genetically modified plants evaluated.

This would greatly harm the x27; application of organic standards, writes the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec (MAPAQ) in his letter addressed to the President of the federal agency, which is the responsibility of Health Canada.

“It is important that the integrity of organic products not be questioned by the markets following a regulatory change that would affect this highly competitive and growing sector, particularly in Quebec. »

— Excerpt from the letter from Bernard Verret, Deputy Minister at MAPAQ

More than 11,000 organic products are marketed in Quebec, and the areas of organic farmland doubled between 2015 and 2020.

Varieties of plants resulting from genetic engineering are prohibited in organic production. Even animal feed must be GMO-free for pork, chicken, etc. to be certified organic.

According to the Canadian seed industry, plants resulting from gene editing are not GMOs. But the European Union considers them as such.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency explains by email that its reform aims to clarify the current requirements of the Seeds Regulations.

“The CFIA is clarifying its guidance so plant breeders can confidently navigate the regulatory system, while maintaining high safety standards. »

— Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in an email to Radio-Canada

So far, when a company wants to put a GMO on the market, it is evaluated by the CFIA, it requires authorization and the list of authorized products is available to farmers.

With the reform, certain plants resulting from genome editing will no longer be considered novel foods and will thus escape the process. In addition, the federal government introduces the concept of “voluntary transparency” for the industry.

Unlike GMOs that we have known for 25 years , gene editing does not insert a foreign gene into the plant to give it a new trait, but rather alters the existing gene using the CISPR genetic scissor.

The method is more accurate, faster and cheaper. It makes it possible to develop certain useful qualities and to attenuate certain characteristics considered undesirable.

Difference between gene editing and traditional GMOs< /p>

Some examples of gene editing results :

  • an apple that does not not brown;
  • wheat rich in fiber;
  • a cow without horns to avoid injury;
  • a hen resistant to bird flu.

If the reform is applied, organic producers could unknowingly plant seeds resulting from genome editing or feed these plants to their animals. At the end of the chain, consumers would also be in the dark.

The Union of Agricultural Producers of Quebec (UPA) is concerned that farmers can no longer tell the difference on the bags of seed they buy. She asks for the maintenance of mandatory labeling to preserve the freedom of choice of producers.

Our arms are falling to the ground, says Christian Legault, a consultant specializing in regulatory monitoring who works for the Quebec Biological Sector (FBQ). The FBQ markets more than 11,000 organic products.

With its reform, the federal government is breaking the ability to trace these products, which are prohibited in organic production, he adds.

“For us, this is a direct threat to the entire organic products market, both in Quebec and Canada. »

— Christian Legault, consultant specialist in regulatory watch for the Quebec Organic Sector

The Council for Reserved Designations and Enhanced Terms (CARTV), which accredits those who certify organic products, shares this concern. If inspectors in the field cannot have the list that makes up a product, the latter will not be able to obtain its certification, maintains CEO Marie-Josée Gouin.

We won't have any more organic processed foods, worries the vice-president of the Quebec Food Processing Council (CTAQ), Christine Jean, who represents 13 associations and 600 companies. It completely threatens the foundations of this market.

Nothing will change, assures Pierre Petelle, CEO of CropLife Canada, the lobby representing seed companies and the agrochemical industry. In an email to Radio-Canada, he promises to pursue a high level of transparency provided to farmers regarding their seed choices.

“The industry will provide information to growers on the seed they purchase. »

— Pierre Petelle, CEO of CropLife Canada, in an email to Radio-Canada

Federal government says it is listening to industry concerns biologics and trusts industry to share information, although they will no longer be obligated to.

“Industry has affirmed its commitment to participate in Health Canada's Transparency Initiative. »

— Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in an email to Radio-Canada

All of this is not enough to reassure the Government of Quebec and the Quebec agri-food industry, which are calling for the maintenance of of the obligation to declare these products.

We believe it is important that the concerns raised by the Filière Biologique du Québec and by the Conseil de la transformationalimentaire du Québec be taken into consideration by the federal government, writes MAPAQ Deputy Minister Bernard Verret in his letter to the federal government.

“This type of approach based on "the goodwill of the government" industry" no longer guarantees consumers the possibility of having reliable information concerning the presence or absence of genetically modified plants in their food. »

— Excerpt from a joint press release from the UPA, CTAQ, FBQ and CARTV

Pierre Petelle, of CropLife Canada, believes that the criticism from Quebec stems from a lack of understanding of how the system works.

Canada is one of the largest wheat exporters in the world.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, meanwhile, says that internationally, there is growing recognition of the role that genetically modified products can play in helping to meet global challenges, including food security, nutrition, climate change and pest pressure.

But the Quebec Food Processing Council thinks it's all happening too fast.

“We consider gene editing to be too new to assume safety and environmental impacts. »

— Excerpt from a letter from Sylvie Cloutier, CEO of the CTAQ, addressed to the President of the CFIA

The seed industry asserts that gene editing is absolutely risk-free.

“Crops developed by gene editing are just as safe as those developed by traditional plant breeding .

— Pierre Petelle, CEO of CropLife

In 2018, South Korea and Japan stopped importing wheat from Canada, because genetically modified plants had been discovered in Alberta, and they did not want them.

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