Stephen Yarrow is vice-president, plant biotechnology for CropLife Canada.

Agriculture may be Canada’s ticket to success, according to the recent report from the Advisory Council on Economic Growth titled Unleashing the Growth Potential of Key Sectors. The report highlights a number of conditions that position Canada to significantly increase its agricultural exports and grow its economy.

The council, chaired by Dominic Barton, sets some lofty targets, such as increasing Canada’s share of global agricultural exports to eight per cent from its current 5.7 per cent, thus making us the second-largest agricultural exporter after the United States.

How will we get there? Part of what’s going to drive Canada’s growth and competitiveness in agriculture is continued innovation in plant breeding. However, in order for this to happen, there’s a need for modernization within the regulatory systems both in Canada and around the world.

In fact, two of the recommendations in the council’s report spoke directly to making the innovation climate in Canada world-class. Firstly, we must streamline approvals and remove barriers to bringing new products to market. Secondly, the report recommended that the Canadian government find new ways to recognize foreign approvals.

Canada has been a global leader in the adoption of plant breeding innovations over the last 20 years with about 100 plants with novel traits passing through the regulatory system. The vast majority of these plants involved similar technologies in a small number of crops. But times are changing and an increase in the number of new technologies such as CRISPR, new traits, and new crops is reinforcing the council’s call for regulatory modernization.

Modernization is an important element in placing the Government of Canada in a strong position to petition export markets to adopt similar approaches, which would ensure these markets remain open.

The council’s report creates a tremendous opportunity for industry and government to work together to implement a new model for the oversight of plant breeding innovation, supporting Canada’s push for a greater share of global trade through being a thought leader in this space and allowing the plant science industry to contribute to unleashing the potential of the agrifood sector in Canada.

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