Gene-edited soybeans could be available soon

  • National Newswatch

CFIA guidance on the process is the final step needed.Ottawa—Final Canadian Food Inspection Agency guidance is all that is required to enable Canadian farmers to begin planting gene-edited (GE) soybean varieties just as they can sow organic, regular and genetically modified ones, says Brian Innes, Executive Director of Soy Canada.Development of GE varieties has advanced to the point that making them available to growers is very close and some are already commercialized in the U.S., he said. Even when GE seeds are available in Canada, the full range of varieties should continue to be available to growers.His comments came following the announcement by Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau about the release of Canadian Food Inspection Agency guidelines for pre-market assessment of new varieties.It set the “stage for new seed innovation in Canadian soybeans and was the second last step for soybeans produced using gene editing to be commercialized and bring benefits to consumers in Canada and around the world,” Innes said. The new varieties will produce “more resilient, healthier and more bountiful crops for our growers.”Canadian seed and technology companies are developing soybeans that are more resistant to climate stresses and are higher yielding, healthier, have higher protein and produce more versatile oil, he said.GE technology makes plant breeding quicker and more accessible, with many small, medium, and large organizations already having GE soybeans in their pipeline.Seed companies in Quebec, Ontario, and Western Canada can develop varieties that meet customer's specific needs remains, which contributes to the sustainable growth of the soybean industry, Innes said.The current and planned transparency initiatives and the world-class Canadian Identity Preserved Recognition System deliver assurances to customers just as they have been for Canada's world renowned non-genetically modified food-grade soybeans. “Our customers know that we excel at providing a diverse range of products. We're committed to continue providing customers what they want once we commercialize soybeans created using gene editing.”Back in January, 58 agrifood groups called on the government to finally publish CFIA's Guidance for Plants with Novel Traits (PNT). Since 2018 when the government said it would help the agricultural sector innovate, grow and compete by reducing uncertainty about Canada's regulations for plant breeding innovation.Rigorous science-based proposals for the guidance were developed.Following consultations in 2021 and in 2022, Health Canada published its updated guidance on this subject, Innes said. At the time, farm groups were told that the CFIA's guidance was scheduled for publication in October 2022. It came in May 2023.Meanwhile “our international counterparts in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Philippines and India, among others, have all completed their guidance updates and are benefiting from increases in investment and innovation as a result.”Since a single new plant variety may be regulated by both the CFIA and Health Canada, innovators will continue to be restricted until both organizations have finalized their guidance. “All that remains is for CFIA to publish the updated guidance,” Innes said.“It is critical for Canada to ensure that this thoroughly vetted, science-based, updated guidance is published immediately before our agricultural sector loses another year of innovation due to uncertainty about Canada's position on plant breeding innovation in the global marketplace.”